More Demand than Supply – A Good Problem?

Just this week, my friend, longtime club attorney Dennis Hiller of Greenberg Traurig raised the issue of compaction and I’ve since had three additional conversations and received another 2 emails on the topic of increased demand for tee times, which are, of course in finite supply. The COVID pandemic has created one good problem. More people want to play golf and many existing golfers are playing more frequently. Some have said that COVID did for golf what Tiger Woods couldn’t do.

This problem is apparent nowhere more than our private clubs. Membership at many clubs has surged with clubs now perceived as a “safe haven” from the pandemic and other issues and the economy is strong with many having the resources to join clubs. Accordingly, clubs have an increasing need to manage their tee sheets like never before.

The correct solution will vary from club to club, depending on that club’s culture. Assessing that culture is the first step and involves raising a variety of questions and more importantly developing objective answers. Some of these questions include (but are certainly not limited to):

  • How many rounds can the course accommodate?
  • What is the desired # of rounds for the club?
  • How big is the membership?
  • How active is the membership?
  • Are the members typically “owners” or “customers”?
  • When is pressure on the tee sheet most intense?
  • What are the club policies governing tee times?

Yes, this is probably considered by most to be a “good problem”, however it is a problem. Club members, who often pay substantial entrance fees and ever-increasing dues don’t like being told not only that they can’t get a tee time when they want and with whom they want but maybe not even get a time for an entire day or weekend. Members then grumble about their club being “the most expensive public course in the world” and the complaints grow. How should clubs deal with this problem?

According to several recent estimates, nearly half of all private golf/country clubs in the US currently have waiting lists for membership. Thus, the solution disgruntled members formerly had of simply moving from one club to another isn’t as easy. At some clubs, leadership and management have adopted a “take it or leave” stance which only further annoys some members. At other clubs, a variety of policies have been established ranging from restrictions on advance tee times, limits on frequency of play, allowing fivesomes and eliminating twosomes to compacting tee time intervals to create more slots, and more.

There are lots of moving parts to these solutions and each option impacts the others. Three years ago in this space I wrote about estimating the right number of members for a club. This is even more critical now. Additionally, a club has to look forward and plan for a time (lest we forget the recent past) when memberships aren’t so precious and clubs clamored for members rather than members eager to gain entrance.

Assessing the club’s culture is a start. Additional steps club leadership should consider are a review of access policies (tee times, guests, family members, etc.) and club membership in general. Member satisfaction is the primary goal and any policies should be flexible and flexibly administered with discretion given to the staff responsible for enforcing these policies. Most experts suggest that the surge in golf’s popularity is not sustainable long-term. Accordingly, clubs should plan and be ready for a possible decline in membership that could accompany an economic downturn, a return to more diversity in activities or other competing factors.