How Balfron is winning the membership battle

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The statistics on the state of grassroots golf in Scotland continue to depress those who work in the industry in the home of golf.

The latest nugget of info is that Scotland has now lost over 10,000 golf club members in the last two years.

The only saving grace would be that, unlike two years ago, we’re not the worst of the European nations. According to KPMG’s latest report, that’s England, who lost 38,000 club members in 2017.

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It would be easy to run to the hills and scream that we’re doomed. But there are golf clubs out there that do things right, work hard, listen to their members, and open their doors to visitors with a smile.

Such reports do not tell you the clubs that are thriving, where visitor numbers are up, membership has held its own, and where a profit is turned.

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One of them is Balfron Golf Society, situated some 17 miles north of Glasgow. There’s no resident full-time PGA professional on-site. As such, there’s no pro shop. There isn’t a huge, roomy clubhouse with a lounge and bar area, nor is there a general manager or food and beverage option. It’s about as basic as you can get, and it’s one of the most successful and popular golf clubs in the area.

So, how have they come to make a success of their club in such times, and what can other clubs learn from their model?

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“It’s down to volunteers, fund raising and hard work,” Dave McCann, the club captain, tells bunkered.co.uk. “We think that the model we have for our club allows us to be successful in the challenging environment that exists for golf clubs.

“We have made profits that we invest back in to the club, whilst other clubs are hemorrhaging money.”

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A number of members have left local golf clubs to join Balfron. One such defector said the reason was simple. “They spend their money on the golf course,” he said under anonymity. “The quality of the course is important to me.”

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Membership is £320 a year, which is amongst the cheapest in the Stirlingshire/North Glasgow area.

McCann, who lives in the local village, has a passionate team of local members who all work together for the betterment of the club and its future, something he argues might not happen at ‘traditional’ clubs.

Whilst a number of the clubs in the local area are struggling to bring in juniors, Balfron has a steady stream of around 25 kids attending junior lessons on a Monday night.

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“Our philosophy is ‘affordable golf for all’,” says McCann. “The course has a business model that is low cost, high investment, and it works.

“The cost of membership is kept low while investment in the course is kept high to provide a high quality experience. The club has bucked the trend recently, delivering profits in the last four years. We also have about 80 to 100 players taking part in our medal competitions.

“The work at the club does not happen by magic and a lot of people, including our volunteers, put a lot of effort into making it the success that it is.”

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The club relies on visitors and actively encourages its members to bring friends and invite others to play the course, with a view to joining at a later stage. The door, he says, is always open to newcomers.

The small lottery-funded clubhouse isn’t manned and an honesty box is in operation. Players can just turn up and play. Tight fiscal planning and budgeting is controlled by a “good working committee” while the club has, according to McCann, a “prudent procurement strategy around machinery and course material”.

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Incidentally, the club’s greenkeeper, David Bate, spent the week at Le Golf National in Paris during the Ryder Cup working as part of the greens team. He was one of 180 workers from 20 countries helping to set-up the course that week.

“What an honour that was for David, and for us,” says McCann.

Considering the negative storylines in Scottish golf in the last few years, this little club has invested in new machinery, installed new tees and greens, replaced bridges, walkways and extended fairways, and all the while turning a profit.

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