Headingley GC bucking trend of declining memberships

Headingley GC manager-secretary Jon Hall (Pictures: Chris Stratford).
Headingley GC manager-secretary Jon Hall (Pictures: Chris Stratford).
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HEADINGLEY GC stages the 36-hole Northern Region Girls’ Close Championship today when a field of 59 will be looking to win the title held by Yorkshire county player Holly Morgan, of Hallamshire.

The competition age limit is 18 and there will also be prizes for best Under-16 and Under-14 players.

A group tees off at the first at Headingley GC.

A group tees off at the first at Headingley GC.

The host club is thriving at a time when county and national associations are reporting a decline in membership and today’s competitors will receive a warm welcome, as do all visitors, says manager-secretary Jon Hall.

“Sadly the trend has been for golf clubs to be struggling since the financial crash around about 2008 and it certainly adversely affected some clubs,” he says.

“I think members who would previously have paid £1,000 a year or whatever and only played a dozen times were certainly the first to question whether they were getting real value.”

One change which Headingley affected successfully to try to maintain their level of membership among younger golfers was to increase discounted subscriptions up to the age of 30.

“Back 20 years or so joining a golf club was probably a case of dead man’s shoes and it was a seller’s market,” adds Hall. “It has all changed now.

“Previously the discounts covered students and former juniors while they were in full-time education, but we feel there is a lot of pressure on youngsters once they have been educated.

“Some of them are amassing student debts and they are thinking about getting their first property and it is really difficult for them, especially if they are getting married and starting a family so we have really done our best to help by discounting subscriptions up to the age of 30 and with no joining fee.”

Hall insists the club is not complacent about its apparent ability to buck the county and national trend and is always looking to make improvements.

And he points to keeping the course open as close to 365 days a year as is possible as having been a big lure.

“The golf course is your key product and the other things are all ancillary,” he says. “Our committee has recognised that and there is continual reinvestment in the course.

“We employed a new head greenkeeper in 2013, Andy Stanger joining us from Horsforth, and he has made huge improvements to the course in terms of its year-round condition.

To read a report on the Northern Girls’ championship at Headingley GC click HERE.

“The biggest thing we do here is we afford golfers year-round golf - we do not like to close the course.

“Some clubs practically used to shut down in winte,r but now golfers tend to be really keen and want to play all year. We are always trying to improve the course drainage wise, but we do have a good piece of land.

“It is a real challenge [keeping it open] because we have an active membership and in winter when they are all trudging round and it is a little bit wet underfoot, sometimes you get so messy bits, but we are doing our best every year to improve that to make it as clean and as positive a winter golf experience as we can.”

Hall says Headingley has a diverse and active membership, and adds: “We have a good ladies’ section, a good rabbits’ section - people over 16 handicap – and we compete in all the scratch leagues and the Yorkshire inter district events.

“I know it has been hard for a number of clubs in recent years to attract juniors, but we’ve done really well with new juniors.

“We think this is a such a special club that we really want people who really want to join “We are individuals who want to spend our spare time in nice surroundings with nice people playing sport, having a laugh, good fun afterwards and some good food and drink.

“There is a lot of information in golf now, advice telling you to try letting people play foot-golf or nine-hole rounds, to get rid of your dress code, reduce your core standards and thresholds.

“But while I understand that may be appropriate for some it is not appropriate in everybody’s case and we have tried to meet the challenge in a different way which is to try to be very positive about it.

“There are people who absolutely do like the dress code and traditions. I don’t want to sound bitter about the wider world, but the fact is a lot of our members know when they come through that gate that they can leave the rest of the world behind.

“You don’t hear much good news on the news these days and when people are working hard and have families and it is tough, when they come here just for that three or four hours they can just forget all about that and it is like an escape, like a mini holiday and that is what we try to do here. It’s a special place.”

Prudent housekeeping means the club has a healthy enough cash reserve to be able to budget for regular improvements, such as to the lounge, locker rooms and other areas of the club.

Hall concludes: “I do get a little bit frustrated because we get the same advice from all the unions and associations - you must change, do everything differently for this and that.

“But we have seen it a little bit differently and just try to build on what we’ve got as we have some things that are just very, very good about our golf club. All we needed to do is just make the best of what we have.”

Has your club had to drastically alter to overcome the difficult financial climate of recent years?

Let Chris Stratford know your thoughts by emailing him, christopherstratfordgolf@gmail.com.

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