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Is there a sweet spot for number of members at an 18 hole club


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Here in Arizona, as with much of the country, I have noticed initiation fees dramatically increase as well as monthly dues.  In a few cases I have seen the membership numbers decrease (possibly going for a better experience at a higher price point???). Im just curious what typical numbers are for your club. And is there a sweet spot where you get an active membership, but the course isn't always a packed tee sheet every day.

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I’ve been at a couple clubs. I think the 225-250 is the right amount. Once it gets up to 275, if the membership is active, it gets tough to get tee times. Where I’m at now membership is capped at 175 plus 20 seniors ( don’t play much) and it can be tough to get a game some times.  From

my experience that 225-250 is a good range to meet the access vs available game issue. 

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We are capped at 300, and that seems to be a decent number.  Weekends in prime season fill the tee sheet, but generally tee times are rarely an issue while maintaining a large enough membership to fill out events and offer room for discounted sub 40 and sub 30 memberships that prime the pump for the future vitality of the club.  I would guess we lose 10-20 members per year to age, relocation or lack of use but in this boom period we are on a wait list and fill right back up.  Foretees, a software used by many clubs as an online tee sheet, keeps the playing field very level in making prime times available to all members.  What can be misleading is that a husband and wife count as one membership at our club.  Over the last handful of years the number of rounds played by women has grown meaningfully.  That is great for the vitality of the club, the longevity of the membership and the game in general.  However, in terms of head count of active golfing members a "300 cap" may actually represent 400 players.

 

Phred

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My club is currently around 310 members. We had a membership drive in '18 that brought in a bunch of new members, and I think we were hovering around the 350 area at the peak. Then the 2 year deal ran out, and a bunch ran off to the next private club offering the latest deal. 

 

310 seems to be about right. I don't have issues teeing off when I want, and with the exception of one 5 hour round this entire season, pace of play has been great. 

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37 minutes ago, Roody said:

Then the 2 year deal ran out, and a bunch ran off to the next private club offering the latest deal. 

Keep telling yourself that. If your club doesn't do much to retain the new people, then yes, they will leave. 

I joined a local club because the deal was good to join (always wanted to and stepping up from semi-private to private club and save some money while doing so, sure) At that, the private club was 10 min from my house vs 25.

I was looked at differently because "I was one of those deal guys"... in all phases, socializing, getting paired up, tournies, etc...  didn't pay my "fair share" of dues. Even heard one of the board members after the round disparage "people like us" in the clubhouse.  

So, you go on thinking they're chasing the deals (I'll admit, some may be, yes). But in my personal experience,  I'll go the other way and say "your club, and membership, probably didn't really do much to keep them and quite possibly treated them differently." (And screw them if they didn't want to stay, right? Much better off for you.)  

Edited by Imp
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2 hours ago, Imp said:

Keep telling yourself that. If your club doesn't do much to retain the new people, then yes, they will leave. 

I joined a local club because the deal was good to join (always wanted to and stepping up from semi-private to private club and save some money while doing so, sure) At that, the private club was 10 min from my house vs 25.

I was looked at differently because "I was one of those deal guys"... in all phases, socializing, getting paired up, tournies, etc...  didn't pay my "fair share" of dues. Even heard one of the board members after the round disparage "people like us" in the clubhouse.  

So, you go on thinking they're chasing the deals (I'll admit, some may be, yes). But in my personal experience,  I'll go the other way and say "your club, and membership, probably didn't really do much to keep them and quite possibly treated them differently." (And screw them if they didn't want to stay, right? Much better off for you.)  


Actually, the current 310-ish number is locked, and we have at least 8-10 people on a waiting list according to the guy on the board who is in charge of recruiting. 

And we just had a vote on an assessment a couple months ago.  92% voted yes in favor of doing the improvements. To me that seems like a club that is doing alright by their members. The real test will be how many we retain come January when members are allowed to put in their resignations for the year. People that believe in the club and want it to be the best it can be will stay.

As for you being one of "those deal guys", my wife and I actually came in on the '18 deal I mentioned earlier so we are as well. I think in the three years we've been there, I heard one guy jokingly complain to me about being a "deal guy". I quickly reminded him that my wife and I outspend our food minimum by 5 to 6 times each year, we spend extra and play in tournaments, scotches, etc, and we participate in a bunch of the social events. We're not "play 18 and head right home after" members. 

Edited by Roody

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350 tops. Ideally 250-300. Over 350 and you have issues with tee times on weekends. It depends on the average age of the members too. If you have more older players, they tend to play during the week and don't take the weekend times as much. If you have mostly younger members and you can't play during the week you're going to want a lower member cap.

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The member-owned clubs I've been a member of in the past usually had caps of 300-350 unrestricted golf members. This can be slightly misleading, as similar to what @Phreddy mentioned, two spouses counted as one member towards this cap, plus there were usually additional people with restricted golf privilege memberships, some corporate memberships that had several "designees", etc. so the actual number of golfers could be way higher.

 

The peak membership at one of those clubs when I was there was probably 325 unrestricted golf members (hit the cap) plus the spouses and restricted members during the mid 2000s. Most of the unrestricted members were very active and there were a lot of spouses who played. There were a lot of retirees who played almost every day. Guest fees were very reasonable and the only restriction was guests couldn't play early weekend mornings, so there was a lot of guest play. Tee time availability was very tight in the mornings and early afternoons unless you planned ahead a few days or were a single willing to play with anyone, and they did a lottery for the early AM weekend times. They used 8 minute tee time intervals to get more people on the course and it led to slow play problems by late morning.

 

At a different club, we had about 200 unrestricted golf members, at least half of whom probably played less than 50 rounds per year, with few playing spouses, few retired "play every day" types, no corporate memberships, and high guest fees that seemed to discourage guest play. The course was always wide open, you never needed a tee time even on a weekend morning, just show up and tee right off.

 

If @vallygolf is around Phoenix, he is no doubt aware of the situation at the lower-end corporate owned clubs that are completely packed with members right now since COVID, and it's easier to get a tee time and play a faster round at a public course instead. I don't know if those clubs have any actual cap on number of members or if they just keep taking peoples' money.

Edited by Bonneville85308
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It obviously depends on how frequently the members play.

 

At my club for example we are capped at just over 300 members and have a waiting list a mile long. In reality, we probably have closer to 400 once you account for spouses/children.

 

I'd say the majority of those members play somewhat regularly, and it's a mostly younger crowd (maybe 70% or more under the age of 50). When the weather in good in late spring through early fall it can be tougher to get a tee time on a weekend morning. At the same time we have groups/games that play during those times so it's easy to just join one of them if you're interested.

 

When the weather is less ideal (late fall through early spring) or during the weekdays you can pretty much get a tee time whenever you want or just walk up and tee off. 

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53 minutes ago, Bonneville85308 said:

The member-owned clubs I've been a member of in the past usually had caps of 300-350 unrestricted golf members. This can be slightly misleading, as similar to what @Phreddy mentioned, two spouses counted as one member towards this cap, plus there were usually additional people with restricted golf privilege memberships, some corporate memberships that had several "designees", etc. so the actual number of golfers could be way higher.

 

The peak membership at one of those clubs when I was there was probably 325 unrestricted golf members (hit the cap) plus the spouses and restricted members during the mid 2000s. Most of the unrestricted members were very active and there were a lot of spouses who played. There were a lot of retirees who played almost every day. Guest fees were very reasonable and the only restriction was guests couldn't play early weekend mornings, so there was a lot of guest play. Tee time availability was very tight in the mornings and early afternoons unless you planned ahead a few days or were a single willing to play with anyone, and they did a lottery for the early AM weekend times. They used 8 minute tee time intervals to get more people on the course and it led to slow play problems by late morning.

 

At a different club, we had about 200 unrestricted golf members, at least half of whom probably played less than 50 rounds per year, with few playing spouses, few retired "play every day" types, no corporate memberships, and high guest fees that seemed to discourage guest play. The course was always wide open, you never needed a tee time even on a weekend morning, just show up and tee right off.

 

If @vallygolf is around Phoenix, he is no doubt aware of the situation at the lower-end corporate owned clubs that are completely packed with members right now since COVID, and it's easier to get a tee time and play a faster round at a public course instead. I don't know if those clubs have any actual cap on number of members or if they just keep taking peoples' money.

  Im blown away that some of these low end privates are getting 1K a month in dues.  Many have over 400 members (again with families it will be more like 500), as well as other social members with golf access even if limited.  It looks like nationally 250-350 is more the norm for a course with such a high monthly.  Id be interested if courses are killing it financially, or if it is all mitigated by increased costs.  Basically are golf courses in and of themselves still toxic assets, or has that paradigm shifted a bit.

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It has shifted, at least for the short term.  Covid was the best thing that has happened to golf financially since Tiger Woods.  The question will be if the industry is able to keep people playing or if they start moving back to other activities.  Locally anecdotally it appears number of rounds played is already decreasing since school started back up.   

 

For the original question it obviously depends on the membership but 250-350 seems to work well.  

Edited by oneunderbogey
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4 hours ago, Imp said:

Keep telling yourself that. If your club doesn't do much to retain the new people, then yes, they will leave. 

I joined a local club because the deal was good to join (always wanted to and stepping up from semi-private to private club and save some money while doing so, sure) At that, the private club was 10 min from my house vs 25.

I was looked at differently because "I was one of those deal guys"... in all phases, socializing, getting paired up, tournies, etc...  didn't pay my "fair share" of dues. Even heard one of the board members after the round disparage "people like us" in the clubhouse.  

So, you go on thinking they're chasing the deals (I'll admit, some may be, yes). But in my personal experience,  I'll go the other way and say "your club, and membership, probably didn't really do much to keep them and quite possibly treated them differently." (And screw them if they didn't want to stay, right? Much better off for you.)  

So stupid to look at someone differently for taking advantage of a good deal or fair price. As if anyone else would have done differently, given the opportunity to join a good club at a good deal. 

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My club has between 150-200 members (some national). It is great because I go out there whenever I want and usually have the place to myself. I've never played a round over 3 hours. The downside is we moved to where we are and don't have a ton of friends here. The hope was to meet people at the club...Not really possible with never seeing any one. I also never see anyone our age when I do see people in the club house. I play at friends' clubs with awesome JR Membership programs and feel envious, but they also have 4.5 hour rounds and have to book tee times and busy weekends, which I have no interest in. So I guess somewhere in the middle. 250ish? Maybe my members are just really inactive.

 

Edited by mci711
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16 minutes ago, mci711 said:

My club has between 150-200 members (some national). It is great because I go out there whenever I want and usually have the place to myself. I've never played a round over 3 hours. The downside is we moved to where we are and don't have a ton of friends here. The hope was to meet people at the club...Not really possible with never seeing any one. I also never see anyone our age when I do see people in the club house. I play at friends' clubs with awesome JR Membership programs and feel envious, but they also have 4.5 hour rounds and have to book tee times and busy weekends, which I have no interest in. So I guess somewhere in the middle. 250ish? Maybe my members are just really inactive.

 

Your scenario sounds perfect to me.  I have plenty of social outside of my club.  Golf is actually the retreat for me.  I would easily pay double my current dues for a walk on and play tee sheet with 3 hr rounds.  My club is at 350 active members and families.  It is fairly packed.

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4 hours ago, vallygolf said:

Your scenario sounds perfect to me.  I have plenty of social outside of my club.  Golf is actually the retreat for me.  I would easily pay double my current dues for a walk on and play tee sheet with 3 hr rounds.  My club is at 350 active members and families.  It is fairly packed.

 

That exists plenty of places it is just $$$

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Just now, tiderider said:

don't belong to a private club, but honestly, if you could wing it, why join one with more than 100 members? ... 

Proximity is the biggest reason for me.  My work is tied to a location, and my time is my least available resource.   If I could just fix that work thing....double edge sword.  If I had an exclusive club within 15 mins I would join immediately (actually probably wouldn't pass the interveiw:).

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6 hours ago, Uncle_Buck2 said:

So stupid to look at someone differently for taking advantage of a good deal or fair price. As if anyone else would have done differently, given the opportunity to join a good club at a good deal. 

I was looking forward to being a long term member. Being 10 min away and a good course. Just didn't "work out". 

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  • 2 weeks later...
On 10/21/2021 at 12:37 PM, oneunderbogey said:

It has shifted, at least for the short term.  Covid was the best thing that has happened to golf financially since Tiger Woods.  The question will be if the industry is able to keep people playing or if they start moving back to other activities.  Locally anecdotally it appears number of rounds played is already decreasing since school started back up.   

 

For the original question it obviously depends on the membership but 250-350 seems to work well.  

 

I bet this holds through 2023 then we start to see issues again at least at some clubs that were on the verge of going semi-private pre-covid. Same will hold true for bottom tier private clubs. 

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