Initiation fees are the ‘temperature’ of your club. Have one, and potential members will likely view you as viable and healthy. The absence of an initiation fee is a beacon to the transient bargain shopper.
In short, you should always have an initiation fee (!) – even if you have to concede in another area.
You could creatively defray some of the costs with:
Cart passes or cart usage included for so many months.
Locker usage for 12 months.
…just be cautious when nixing it completely.
The appearance of struggling to survive doesn’t say, “great club, amazing service, exceptional experience, or wow”, it says, “please come, we are dying”.
It had been a year since I had ventured down to Chattanooga to play the Seth Raynor gem, Lookout Mountain Golf Club. Built in 1925, Lookout turned out to be Raynor’s last design (he died at 51 years old), and was, at the time the third most expensive golf course ever built in the United States. Mr. Raynor, an associate of C.B. MacDonald, built several of America’s best clubs: Fishers Island, Shoreacres, Yeamans Hall, Camargo, and Yale.
To say the least, it is an honor just to set foot on the property. October is a magical time to be on top of the mountain. My wife had never visited Lookout, but seemed curious after surprising me with a framing of the original reprint of Mr. Raynor’s course map, which now sits proudly in my office.
Having visited several times over the years, both as a guest with a good friend, and more recently with a Golf Club Atlas group, I became friends with the Head Golf Professional, Adam Campbell.
As Golf Professionals go, Mr. Campbell is as friendly and cordial as any you will ever meet, with a genuine handshake to match. Mr. Campbell gets ‘it’, as does his staff. Fast-forward to last fall…I had ‘threatened’ to visit several times with my wife to ‘sell’ her on becoming a National Member. Literally in four attempts, we had four absolute rain-outs. The last time we tried to set-up a visit Mr. Campbell offered, “…just come down, I don’t care what day it is. I want your wife to see the club. I’m afraid if you call ahead, bad weather will follow“…so we did.
On a near perfect fall day, with the leaves colored in shades of burnt orange, we finally made it down. With only a few cars in the parking lot and no one expecting us (except Mr. Campbell who I had emailed on the way), we walked into the pro shop to find the Shop Manager, Miles Stephens. Miles, who I had only met three other times in THREE YEARS, hesitated for about 4 seconds (which must have felt to him like 14 seconds) before saying, “Welcome…Mr. Sponcia”.
I said, “Miles, great to see you…and thanks for remembering me“!
He said, “It is a great day for golf, so glad you came down“.
Dale Carnegie said, “…a person’s name is the most beautiful word in the English language“.
I can’t tell you how many times I’ve visited the same clubs as a guest multiple times throughout the years, seeing the same staff, and virtually none remember my name.
This simple act says more about the individual than almost anything they can do – and should be a model for all clubs to follow.
If you are reading this now, you may be thinking, “Mr. Campbell probably alerted Miles that we were coming”…but Mr. Campbell was preparing for an event later in the day and had not checked his email all morning. When I saw him after making the turn, he was just as excited that my wife and I came down to visit as Miles was.
In a time where (it seems) customer service is at an all-time low, it is refreshing to know there are folks like Mr. Campbell and Mr. Stephens who exemplify the word – Professional.
One of the most underutilized, yet most profitable membership categories (it seems) few clubs focus on, is National memberships.
While any club pro worth his weight in Pro V’s can get his member on 95% of the Private clubs in the United States, some members want more lasting happiness than just a day of belt-notching.
For many, it’s the thought of still being connected to their home club despite moving several hundred miles away. For others, a National membership represents a second club that they can call home for a quick weekend trip, an additional member-guest tournament, or if the course is of a certain pedigree (Ross, Raynor, Tillinghast, etc.), a source of great pride for he and his friends to enjoy on occasion.
Three mistakes clubs make in what should be an easy sell are:
1. Pricing the membership too high: When it comes to pricing, most clubs want to protect their current, full members. Doing so usually means pricing the National/out of town membership category at roughly 1/2 of their full membership price per month. At $200 (for example), even with no food minimums or add-ons, many potential members who only see themselves coming a few times per year will balk. On paper, it appears to the local members that the National membership is a giveaway…until they do the math and think through the actual impact these folks will have on the tee sheet.
National members almost never travel alone, so having one member usually means selling 2-7 guest fees each time they visit.
In addition to the extra guest fees, most National members and their guests will want a shirt or sweater to take with them. Many also eat at the club, which is another source of income.
Since many have to drive 2+ hours, they can’t tee off at 8 am, and frankly, few want to feel like they are taking a local members ‘normal’ slot, so they are usually open to teeing off a little later in the morning.
Clubs never factor in the gas, food, and lodging National members incur on the few times they come to town. While (again) on paper, the membership can look cheap, in reality, a day at the club typically costs upwards of $300-500 for the individual. A $2,400 membership suddenly becomes $4,000 even if they only come a few times per year.
2. Allowing too much access already: No one wants to become a member of a club that they can access with ease. People will pay for exclusivity (or the perception of it).
3. They spend little to no effort marketing the membership: I’ve never seen a single Facebook or Twitter post focused on attaining National members, have you? Does your club keep track of guests that visit from out of town? Wouldn’t they be a logical choice to be your next National member?
The most unique (and genius) National Membership plan I’ve ever seen lives at the Blackthorn Club in Jonesborough, TN. (Currently) For $1,000 per year, the member ‘banks’ his initial fee. Each time he visits and uses the club (food, carts, guest fees), the fee is reduced per incident, until the initial fee is depleted. For an additional $500, the account is ‘re-charged’ until December 31.
The best way to get started is simple – create an almost give-away plan. Market it until you reach your target member number or sales volume. Raise as needed. Supply and demand will tell you everything you need to know.