Membership Surveys & Retention Strategies
The most important ingredient of any club is its members. With more choice than ever before in the way that people spend their leisure time, a club’s ability to recruit and retain members is critical to its long-term viability. Clubs can’t rely on prospective members to simply arrive at their club anymore. Clubs need to use marketing techniques to attract new members and consistently communicate with them to ensure they are receiving the services they expect. It's vital the board/committee should understand the rate at which the club’s membership is growing or declining.
The Australian Golf Industry Council has endorsed the toolkit below, developed by Golf Australia & the PGA, for use in clubs. The toolkit covers 8 areas of action and will enable clubs and facilities to attract and retain, members who will be prepared to enjoy what your club has to offer for the long term.
Click through the areas below to find resources targeting those areas of focus for your club.
Role & Responsibilities
Membership attraction & retention doesn’t just simply happen, the people in your clubs need to be responsible for it. Do you have your PGA Professional, Golf Operations Coordinator, Committee member, or even just a volunteer in a position of responsibility specifically relating to a golfer attraction and retention plan?
Staffed Clubs & Facilities
While attracting, engaging and retaining members and golfers at a club or facility should be a holistic, team effort, assigning the primary responsibility to a member of staff is both beneficial and effective.
A staff member with the requisite skills relating to excellent knowledge of the sport, golfer improvement, enjoyment, events, equipment, connection and community is ideal for driving golfer attraction and retention through activities that engage with golfers of all types and abilities. For many golf clubs and facilities, this will be your PGA club professional in roles ranging from Head Professional and Director of Golf through to Golf Operations Manager and Teaching Professional. PGA professionals are trained, passionate and knowledgeable about all aspects of the sport of golf, including those that lead to golfer satisfaction and retention.
The resources below provide a sample position description for a PGA professional to be engaged as a Director of Golf position (or similar) that incorporates specific responsibilities relating to golfer attraction, engagement, and retention. It is anticipated that the implementation of this role and position description would have a positive impact on member and golfer retention through several pro-active strategies. Depending upon current PGA Professional positions in place, clubs and facilities also have the option of selecting specific new responsibilities to insert within a Position Description.
For volunteer-based clubs and facilities without access to a PGA Professional, it is possible to implement many of the same strategies. Consider how members of the club committee or general members can be assigned specific roles and responsibilities relating to retention. With a full team-effort across the club, excellent results can still be achieved at clubs without a PGA Professional. Alternatively, consider engaging with a PGA Professional to service certain aspects of the club relating to attraction, engagement and retention. For example, a PGA Professional could effectively service a club or facility on a part-time basis in relation to improvement programs, the staging or fun events, or at-risk golfer care groups.
GM’s, Boards, and Committees are the enablers
General Managers or Boards, and the person responsible for golfer retention must be fully aligned for the full effectiveness of a retention plan to be realised.
For example, golf clubs must have their PGA Club Professionals in a role that facilitates accompanied play and freedom to coach, while also encouraging their professionals to interact with golfers on the first tee, putting green, golf course and driving range. This type of valuable interaction cannot occur from behind a Pro-Shop counter or back-office.
Accompanied play with golfers by PGA professionals can be utilised by golf clubs as an effective membership retention strategy. Via accompanied play, the PGA professional can discuss coaching, membership, equipment and the golfer’s objectives, thereby gaining valuable information to utilise in retention. PGA professionals can also provide inspiration for the golfer to improve their game, in addition to important on-course advice to make the sport more enjoyable.
It is vital for Golf Club General Managers to be aware of how many of their members are engaged regularly in coaching programs or make regular contact with their resident PGA Professional for playing or engagement events. Do managers and PGA Professionals discuss member engagement regularly? Are there engagement reports in place to identify “at-risk” golfers? Are there coaching program reports indicating the number of golfers engaged with game improvement programs?
As outlined, PGA Professionals have the knowledge, skills, expertise and experience to employ a variety of engagement activities to connect with their members and golfers including accompanied play, supervised practice, swing assessments, club-fitting assessments, group coaching, individual coaching, skills challenges, engagement events and junior clinics, and all should be considered for implementation by a club.
Golf clubs should consider the value of getting PGA Professionals out from behind the Pro-Shop counter or administrative office to fully engage with their golfing community. As outlined, consider the redevelopment of position descriptions to facilitate this connection and review strategies that incentivise PGA Professionals for meeting objectives relating to member engagement, membership uptake and retention.
For those clubs who are volunteer managed, you can include similar actions into role descriptions for your volunteers. It I best if this role is performed by someone who is on the committee or board. If that is not possible, these people should have a direct line of reporting to the committee, so that they can action any feedback they received from engaging with the membership.
Do you really know your new and returning golfers in relation to why they have returned to or taken up the sport?
The “why” is all about understanding why someone has joined your club. Do you have a genuine understanding of the reasons they have engaged, or have you made some assumptions? Assumptions, particularly those made by committees, staff & volunteers that have been involved in your club for some time, are often filled with bias, that does not align with the thoughts of the new member.
Some strategies to understand the why can include:
New member surveys
Informal conversations with new members, with outcomes formally recorded
With either strategy, the key is the formal recording of information, so it can be analysed and used to help the club make adjustments to offerings if required.
To assist with the surveying of Members, Clubs & Facilities can access the “360 Survey” tools from Golf Australia. Golf Australia Club & Facility Support Staff will help you build a survey that targets your unique facility with a range of professionally written questions that will help you understand they intricacies of your new members.
The surveys are built on the Survey Monkey platform, and a personalised to your club with logos and terminology that fits you. Once happy with the question set, Golf Australia staff can manage the process for you, receiving the responses and administering the survey, all the way through to providing you with the final report.
Do you have customer-centric design principles at the core of the development of your products and services? Has your club developed it offerings with the consumer in mind? Has some deep though been undertaken as to what your customers want? Have you based that on data, for example the surveys or conversation data that you have gathered while trying to understand the “why”?
“Putting the customer at the centre of everything we do” is a commonly heard phrase. Easy to say but what does it mean?
Being customer-centred is an unrelenting focus on understanding who the customer is and why they play golf at your club/facility.
Unlocking this understanding allows golf to meet the unique needs of different golfers. From this position of understanding, we can consider what products to offer and how to implement them. But this must always be secondary to “who the customer is” and “why they play.”
A customer-centred approach dictates that:
You are never the customer (even if you are a golfer, your job/role creates bias)
You never assume. Move from behind your desk and immerse with customers in context: observe, interact with golfers on the golf course and around your club, and listen.
Why it matters
Simply, people choose to play golf to participate in an enjoyable experience.
However, the reasons why people choose to play or not to play golf are endlessly complicated:
An enjoyable experience means different things to different people - fun, friends, winning, improving;
An enjoyable experience can mean different things to the same person at different times or in different settings - Saturday competition round at my club, trip away with friends, teaching my daughter;
The “say-do gap” between what people intend to do or would like to do and what they actually do - the dusty sets of golf clubs in sheds around the country.
Our choices are often irrational and based on impulses and emotions.
A customer-centred approach requires us to dive into this complexity to deeply understand the choice to play golf and what an enjoyable golf experience is, in order to:
Encourage more people to take up the game;
Bring people back to the game;
Encourage people to progress within their golf journey - join a club, get lessons, buy new clubs;
Increase the amount of golf current golfers play; and
Increase retention of current golfers.
What, How & Why
Ultimately understanding why people play golf and why they enjoy golf will help golf facilities run better businesses.
Golf facilities are typically well armed with data that tells them what is happening and how it is happening – the number of members, new members, lapsed members, revenue, rounds played and so on. Many golf facilities also add depth to this data through surveys.
This is a helpful start - but understanding what is happening and how it is happening is only half the story.
Understanding the why
This toolkit is based on a ‘get out of the office’ approach where we observe and talk to golfers in the golf environment - on-course, in the club house, on the driving range and so on. It is only through talking to people in the moment they experience a service and really listening to them that we can begin to truly understand why they are making the choices they make.
The toolkit provides a process that will allow golf facilities to put structure around the varied needs, thoughts and feelings of golfers and make sense of this complexity.
General Managers and Club Committees will then be armed with an understanding of what is happening and why it is happening and can make the required changes. About the toolkit
Golf Australia (GA) engaged Kinlab Design to develop a toolkit that provides the process and resources for golf development staff to help clubs adopt a more customer-centred approach.
Defines what being customer-centred means and why it matters in golf. This shared understanding will help increase the use of this approach.
Outlines the practical steps from understanding customers through to making the required changes to improve their experience.
Provides the tools that can help with each of these steps.
Is tailored to golf and increasing golf participation (both the number of golfers and rounds of golf played).
Is written in plain, simple language to ensure it is easy to use.
Additionally, the Golf Australia Club & Facility Support Managers are available to help facilitate the process with you at your club or facility. Your local C&FS Manager will be able to talk you through the process that is outlined in the below document, providing independent insight to your club along the way.
Do you have specific strategies and staff training in developing the club/facility as inclusive, welcoming, and socially-connected?
Clubs should refer back to their work under “Why” & “Offerings”” to help determine what “Welcoming” will look like to the customer that you are trying to attract or retain. The following resources will help you achieve that with your customer in mind.
Do you have available and have you specifically made new and returning golfers aware of the variety of coaching and improvement programs you have available?
The improvement of a golfers abilities has been proven time and time again to increase their retention in the sport. Simply put, golfers enjoy playing better golf.
The levels of coaching resource available to each club vary significantly across the country, but there are steps that every club can take to improve to the ability, and in turn enjoyment, of its members.
Where clubs with full time access to PGA teaching professionals, it is in their best interested to develop a member engagement plan to assist in developing their members skills. From individual lessons, to group clinics & masterclasses, there is bound to be an attraction game improvement option for your members.
In clubs that do not have permanent options for coaches, there are still solutions. For professional coaches, in most locations, there will be PGA members who are prepared to travel to regions for a block of scheduled teaching. Again, whether its individual lessons or group clinics that you are looking for, there is a solution for everyone. Your PGA of Australia State Manager, or Golf Australia Club & Facility Support Manager will be able to help identify a teaching professional who will be able to help you out.
Alternatively, Club can run their own introductory clinics by using a Community Instructor and Get into Golf, Australia’s National Introductory Golf Program. Community Instructors are provided with training and a curriculum that will help improve the game of those who are new to the sport.
Do you offer all golfers fun, engaging and socially connecting events on and off the course?
Engagement events at a golf club should also be the responsibility of the resident PGA Professional. Consider the implementation of skills test challenges, putting competitions, par-3 events, or other similar events to promote a connection between the club and the golfer and a greater understanding of golfers’ objectives. As discussed, the cultivation of this relationship using a range of methods will have a positive impact on membership retention.
Not all golfers are looking to tee it up, Saturday after Saturday, in the usual Stroke, Stableford, Par, Stableford rotation. If fact, it’s likely that your new or recently returned golfer is looking for an experience that is far more social and relaxed in nature than the run-of-the-mill competition rotation. So, what can you do that engages your members and does not disturb your peak course access times? Some ideas:
Summer leagues, run a 9 hole team competition through the summer months that gets people to the club on a regular night.
Cross-Country Golf, pick a time and change up the course, play from the 1st tee to the 5th green, or whatever works at your course. With detailed instructions and new challenges, everyone is bound to have a ball.
Par 3 events, shorten up the tees and enjoy a day playing at pins all day long. A great way to get the whole family involved with shorter holes making an afternoon of fun.
Night golf, there are a range of providers who can supply glow in the dark balls and course equipment, a perfect way to engage your members during the warmer months.
3-Club Challenge, over 9 holes, pick your 3 clubs and see what challenges you face when you don’t have a full bag to choose from.
Refer back to the customer centric toolkit under “offerings” where you can find a step-by-step process to develop an understanding of what your members and guests may want. Armed with that information, you and your teams will be able to brainstorm events that will be attractive to different parts of your membership.
Are you ensuring that your new and returning golfers are enjoying their recent participation in the sport? How can you find out the things they enjoy about the club? Pretty simple really, you need to ask them.
Ongoing engagement is critical to retention of your members. Do you have systems in place to monitor and enhance a golfer’s engagement with the club or facility’s offerings, coaching programs and events? Do you know which members are “at risk” because they are not effectively engaged