Should clubs offer free membership to juniors?

Fergus Bisset says… no

One of the primary goals of clubs across the country is to attract and retain junior golfers. Free membership would seem like an obvious way to boost the numbers. In the short term, that would work, but in the medium to long term, such flippant generosity would be counterproductive.

To establish a new generation of golfers, clubs must encourage juniors and their parents to join the sport. To do this properly, there must be an investment from both parties. The club must offer an attractive membership with competitions, courses and trips included. This must be priced at an affordable level. Clubs must commit to providing an excellent junior package. But clubs also need a level of commitment from children and parents.

“The club will end up with a large number of registered juniors who show little or no interest in participating”

While junior membership is free, parents can enroll their children without having to commit to the club.

“It didn’t cost us anything, so it doesn’t matter if we get nothing out of it.”

The club will be left with a large number of juniors on the books who show little or no interest in participating – unlikely to provide this new generation of dedicated club members. Also, if membership is free, what happens when the kids turn 18? Many clubs offer discounted youth and student subs, but this will cost once the junior status wears off. The move from no fees to fees will be too big a leap for many. If they, or more likely their parents, had been with the club for a number of years, the transition would seem a more logical progression.

Junior membership should be affordable but not free. We want to encourage new committed golfers and giving away the sport will not achieve that.

Jeremy Ellwood says…yes

Many will balk at the word “free,” thinking, “Why should we give away our facilities for nothing? It’s understandable, but many clubs have such a shortage of juniors that drastic action is needed.

With most junior memberships already fairly inexpensive, this isn’t going to hurt the incoming revenue streams too much. What we’re really looking for is short-term speculation to increase the odds of long-term gain – a ‘catch them young’ mentality, so we effectively have a next generation of golfers.

At this year’s Open Championship (opens in a new tab), thousands under the age of 16 will attend for free as part of the R&A’s Kids Go Free initiative. Surely that’s good news – exposing more kids to the game and getting them excited.

Many clubs already encourage youth and junior memberships with low-cost options for young adults and low-cost junior memberships.

english golf

But I think free memberships for younger kids – especially if the parents are also members – would encourage some earlier into the fold in hopes that they’ll stay in the game.

Another thing. When I worked at a small golf club in the 1990s, we had a lot of juniors. Membership was not free, but the fee was nominal. Several parents also got involved when they signed up their children, and some of those parents are still active members of the golf club 25 years later.

The free memberships will grumble with some, but I suppose it’s a concept similar to the loss leaders of supermarkets or the apparent ‘money for nothing’ incentives available to switch banks: you have to speculate to potentially accumulate.

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