Rethinking Membership

The pandemic has increased demand for golf membership, but it has also changed what customers want. How do destinations meet the new needs of members – and retain valuable customers for the long term? 

Demand for golf has increased globally – and with it, membership.

But it's not like it was before. Customers now want something different and venues need to respond to meet members’ needs and earn their loyalty.

"Across the European Tour Destinations network there has been a significant shift in golf membership," says Head of European Tour Destinations, Ian Knox.

"The main challenge for general managers going forward is to understand the membership base and what they are looking for.

"Often, members are now looking to play at different times, they are looking for different amenities from the club and opportunities for their families to come along.

"There’s no doubt that destinations are rethinking membership."

Coming up, we speak to three leading European Tour Destinations:

• Golf Club St. Leon-Rot, Germany
• Quinta do Lago, Portugal
• Linna Golf, Finland

And we ask what do members want – and how each venue is responding to meet changing member needs.

Golf Club St. Leon-Rot: Member Lifestyle

Golf Club St. Leon-Rot has always been a semi-private club that has successfully managed its corporate events and visitor business alongside its traditional membership base.

But in the last year it has experienced a spike in demand for membership.

"There have been two new trends," explains General Manager, Eicko Schulz-Hanßen.

"Firstly, we have grown our membership. Normally, we would get 50 new members, but we might lose 20-30 each year. This year, we will have 60-70 new members and they will all be active.

"Secondly, we have less members leaving or becoming inactive."

Schulz-Hanßen attributes the change to a desire to improve lifestyles, with people building in activities on a daily and weekly basis to achieve a better work-life balance.

At the same time, while demand for corporate membership has increased, corporate events are predicted to decline.

This situation is now prompting a rethink on the club's customer offering – and a swing towards membership experience.

First on the investment plan is a restaurant refurbishment.

"We understand that 80-90% of our revenues are related directly to members, so we are putting more focus on the membership," Eicko Schulz-Hanßen continues. 

"We understand that people in the future will spend more time at the club, using the restaurant more, including for private functions, because they are familiar and safe surroundings.

"Our strategy is to increase our value as a golf and country club. We may look at introducing other sports such as tennis, but we are definitely going to invest in the restaurant, and we will encourage members to spend more time here."

"Growing our membership over the next three to five years will give us solid revenue." 
Eicko Schulz-Hanßen, General Manager, Golf Club St. Leon-Rot

Golf Club St. Leon-Rot, Germany.

Golf Club St. Leon-Rot, Germany.

Quinta do Lago: Members at Home

As a resort, how do you balance a business that relies on both visitors and members, when there is growing demand for membership – and members want to play more rounds?

It's a conundrum Quinta do Lago, Portugal, one of Europe's best established golf resorts, has been tackling.

"We had to change our strategy due to the fact we have had more demand than we were expecting," explains Luis Filipe, Corporate & Leisure Relations Director.

"We didn’t want to create a large number of members and then have a lack of starting times for visitors.

"Basically, our strategy has been to put up the prices of membership in order to get the right balance between the membership and visitors in the resort." 

Quinta do Lago has three courses, including the highly rated South Course, which has just reopened after a €7 million renovation.

It is also one of Europe's most successful golf and residential communities. 

According to Luis Filipe, there has been a fundamental shift in clientele and the way they use the resort, which now benefits from a raft of new sport and leisure amenities.

"The clientele now are younger and have chosen Quinta do Lago to be their number one home – and due to that fact they are playing more golf than they used to," Luis said.

"People are valuing more their quality of life, the quality of family life, in a sunny destination where they can play golf and enjoy themselves. It's stress free, and a more sustainable way of life."
Luis Filipe, Corporate and Leisure Relations Director, Quinta do Lago

Demand for membership has surged at Quinta do Lago in Portugal.

Demand for membership has surged at Quinta do Lago in Portugal.

Quinta do Lago's South Course.

The High Performance Campus at Quinta do Lago.

Quinta do Lago's North Course.

Quinta do Lago's South Course.

The High Performance Campus at Quinta do Lago.

Quinta do Lago's North Course.

Linna Golf: Targeting Younger Members

Linna Golf in Finland also faces something of a demand-induced conundrum.

Its green fee revenues soared by 80% last year due to the pandemic.

It has also added nearly 100 new playing members since 2018, predominantly younger people, in addition to its 250 shareholder members.

It's left the destination’s CEO, Esa Honkalehto, asking an important question that the whole golf industry is facing: "Is the demand still going to be the same? You never know after Covid."

While Linna Golf's model is different to most clubs in Finland, the targeting of a younger membership demographic makes an interesting case study.

"Our target market was – and still is – young players born in the 1990s," explains Honkalehto.

"Of the 100 new members, approximately 60 are young people. And the reason why they have chosen us is the quality.

"I would call them trendsetters; many of them are actually local ice hockey players and their friends. We are also targeting small groups and the opinion leaders within those small groups."

Linna Golf has noticed how the new members have changed the ambiance and sense of community within the club.

"They are more regular players," continues Esa Honkalehto. "We have organised a lot of events and competitions for them and they have been keen to participate. The more satisfied they are, the more they bring their friends to join this community."

"The young people have brought a spirit – and it is very different to what it was."
Esa Honkalehto, CEO, Linna Golf

Linna Golf's 4th hole.

Linna Golf's 15th hole.

Linna Golf's 4th hole.

Linna Golf's 15th hole.

2021 Membership Snapshot*

· 30% of venues increased annual fees between 10% and 20%

· 50% of new golf members at PGA Catalunya Golf and Wellness, Quinta do Lago, Bom Sucesso and Finca Cortesin were women

· 78% of venues are planning capital investment in new amenities over the next 12 months

*European Tour Destinations data from Venue Membership Survey, October 2021.

Adapting the membership proposition

While membership – and fees – are increasing across venues in the European Tour Destinations network, venues are also having to adapt to the new and different needs of customers.

In the case of three venues, half of the new members are female, where historically women have made up just a quarter of golfers globally. 

It is also striking that 78% of venues are planning capital investment projects in the coming year; a sure sign that the immediate and long term needs of customers are being considered.

Golf is experiencing seismic shifts and while demand is strong, venues in the European Tour Destinations network are proactively adapting and developing.

Sharing insights and best practice, venues are rethinking membership and planning their long term business sustainability.


Email: Ian Knox
Head of European Tour Destinations

Email: Sandra Ruttle
Real Estate Consultant, European Tour Destinations

© Copyright 2021 - The PGA European Tour