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  • Writer's picturePhil Grice

Beware of the lessons not learned from the Promiscuous Golfer.

In the late 80s and early 90s, a golfing revolution brought both unprecedented growth and unforeseen challenges to the UK golf scene. The era birthed a new type of golfer we will call the "Promiscuous Golfer" – individuals drawn to exploring new courses, following the 2 for 1 voucher to the best deals available and ultimately signalling a departure from traditional memberships for generations of golfers to come.

The late 80s introduced a surge of new golf venues, driving ranges became a tangible component, and golf facilities received facelifts. Concurrently, the Ryder Cup's prominence soared, the European Tour claimed its place in global golf, and legends like Faldo, Sevvy, and Woosie dominated the scene and were regularly viewed on terrestrial TV. Amidst this growth, magazines and peripheral entities introduced 2-for-1 green fee vouchers, unknowingly giving birth to the Promiscuous Golfer.

The consequences were profound. Clubs, especially private member clubs who welcomed the 2 for 1 initiative, found themselves grappling with a sudden need to attract double the number of green fees necessary just to stand still. Meantime they were losing renewal subscriptions at an alarming rate because their ‘dormant’ members who played a dozen games a year decided to become Promiscuous Golfers too. Simultaneously, commercially oriented, mainly proprietary venues, complete with ranges and expanded services, adapted and thrived.

Today, as the golfing landscape rapidly evolves and grows, we face a parallel shift with the emergence of the Non-Traditional Golfer (NTG). With commercial venues, again quick to adapt, are transforming into dynamic entertainment hubs, aligning with the changing preferences of new and modern golfers. However, a concerning divide persists between these forward-thinking establishments with those more traditional and resistant to change. As before the cultural outlook of a modern golfer is again at odds with what they encounter at old-school venues….

Presently, the UK golf industry can be categorized into three distinctive sections.

  • The Proactive Leaders - there are those embracing change and prioritizing customer satisfaction, trailblazing for both Non-Traditional Golfers and progressive modern golfer. This group is leading the way…

  • The Reactive Followers - these clubs comprise of venues and leaders recognizing the evolving needs of golfers, who seek technological integration, a relaxed club atmosphere, and faster adaptability. However, they do not always have the processes, capacity, or ambition within their clubs to make the changes needed to keep up…but they recognise change is happening.   

  • The Ostriches - a considerable sub section of clubs that are basking in the post-COVID boom without altering their strategies, refusing to acknowledge the winds of change. This sub section of clubs, I believe, in time suffer from the lack of in flow of new customers, and in time will be cut adrift if they do not recognise the tides of change will happen with or without them.

As the golf industry navigates these three segments, my fear lingers that the gap will only widen, as it did in the early nineties. Traditional venues, clinging to outdated views and poor cultures, risk alienating themselves from the surge of modern and new customers entering via social media-led tactics, entertainment / technology-driven golf establishments and family-driven marketing strategies.

Today I believe we find ourselves at a juncture reminiscent of the past. Golf is booming, experiencing a surge in the Non-Traditional Golfer, who views the sport through a different prism. Once again, forward-thinking commercial venues are leading the charge in recognizing and meeting the evolving needs of their clients, creating a perceptible gap with traditional establishments blind and or resistant to market shifts and new customer cultures.

The irony lies in the decades it took for golf clubs to acknowledge the importance of evolving their internal processes and cultures to adapt to a new outlook of introducing flexible membership options to attract the Promiscuous Golfer into a gentle form of a relationship. The lack of willingness to adopt a market understanding of the bottom tranche of clubs, or to prioritize customer needs and wants, will threaten not only the inflow of new members but ultimately their survival.

In conclusion, while the golfing world enjoys a post-COVID boom, the industry must recognize the urgent need to adapt, embrace and ultimately evolve. Failure to adapt to the evolving demands of the modern golfer and the Non-Traditional Golfer, coupled with a refusal to address societal changes and the influence of social media, could result in a significant setback for golf in the UK.

It is imperative that traditional venues break free from old-world paradigms, embrace technology, and adopt customer-focused strategies and cultures to ensure a sustainable and thriving future.




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