The inside story of Moray Golf Club’s membership miracle

They hoped for a surge of new faces when the coronavirus lockdown was eased, but even chiefs at Moray were stunned by the numbers clamouring to join

The sums didn’t look pretty. They looked frightening. Visitor revenue predictions of £200,000 were being written off. A bar surplus of £140,000 evaporated like a pint left out in the hot sun. “So straight away we’re almost looking at £300,000 easy peasy,” remembers Moray Golf Club secretary Stevie Grant.

“We needed to try and fill the void. We needed to try and ensure this money is replenished somehow. If you don’t fill that hole, clubs could close. That was the scary thing.”

It was a worst case scenario. In their favour was an incredible course. Or, rather, courses. Moray don’t just have one layout in Scotland’s rankings lists, they have two – the Old and the New.

Then there was hope emerging from south of the border, where English clubs – emerging tentatively from their coronavirus lockdown – were reporting tee sheets filling in minutes and applications to join swamping the desks of managers.

Even so, Grant couldn’t have dreamed it would be like this. How could anyone?

Sitting in his kitchen – working from home a remaining legacy of a three-month shutdown – he reeled off the figures almost casually.

But there was still the slightest hint of disbelief.

“We’re 286 new members and counting. I’ve still got a number on the back burner who are keen to come on board.

“Timing was the key thing. We realised when lockdown came out and we were going to get back out on the golf course, it was pretty clear, pretty soon, that it was going to be members’ golf only.

“We identified there were a number of nomadic golfers out there who were members of no golf club and these were the ones we were trying to encourage to come and join Moray Golf Club.”

Grant and his club council worked the price point. If some used the demand to help shore up their losses, they resisted the temptation to charge a premium.

You could join Moray, until the end of the year, for just £300.

“We had to take the annual membership subscription (about £580) and pitch a price at the right level to attract these numbers of guys who, quite clearly, had nowhere to go and play golf,” he explains.

“We increased the youth membership category – right the way through to 29. We had seen a massive decline within that age group being members of golf clubs.

“By increasing that, and pro rata the costs of membership accordingly, out of the 300 there are 96 youths who have joined up.

“There was the initial uptake on members’ tee times – as soon as it went live it was boosh! The tee sheet was getting booked up really quickly.

“Where one club could possibly offer 120 members golf in a day, we could offer 240 to go out there and play. Some guys who were actually members of clubs in the area and were struggling to get tee times actually came on board with us as well.”

It’s been a largely uninterrupted road for the perfect socially distanced sport since we opened our doors. That free run has now come to an end.

Cricket has returned, along with football, and other grassroots sports are on the way back. The myriad distractions that forced golf to jostle for attention will be tapping teasingly on the shoulders of the UK’s new members.

Grant’s got them in the door, now he’s got to keep them there.

“In a nutshell, it’s £60,000 of membership income we didn’t expect to have this year. It’s not just the £60,000, though.

“If we can retain a percentage – if I can keep 50 per cent of those guys happy going on to next year, and the income they would generate through the bar, through catering, the professional shop and competitions – I wouldn’t go as far as to say it’s saved the golf club but it hasn’t half made things a wee bit easier than what we were seeing at the very beginning with the doom and gloom and the sad faces.”

What’s going on at your club? Get in touch and they can be featured in Tales From the Locker Room like Moray Golf Club. Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

Now listen to the podcast with Moray secretary Stevie Grant…

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