Could golf clubs take the brunt as energy prices soar?

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As energy prices soar, membership numbers are likely to go the other way. How clubs react could shape the game for years, writes Steve Carroll

My new energy bill has landed and it’s eye-watering. The Government is about to take a slice out of my salary for National Insurance.

The price of diesel has been spiralling – that’s when I can get some – and though hybrid working has saved my pocket from the biggest hits of £1.76 a litre, I can’t fill the tank now for much under £100.

The weekly shop is creeping ever upwards, and we’re being told the worst of inflation and the cost of living crisis might still be yet to come.

Thank God I’ve already paid my fees for this year. I’ve got to dot the i’s and cross the t’s on the calculator, and maybe October’s energy price cap review won’t be the unmitigated disaster commentators seem to think it will, but a loose run over the figures shows there is probably going to be a golf club membership sized hole in my finances.

Obviously, I’ve known this was on the cards – I do watch some news – but now it’s here, rather than on the horizon, I’m wondering what it might do to us and our golf clubs over the coming year.

Because the rises that are affecting us are going to hurt them too.

The clubhouse will cost more to run as gas and electricity are more expensive. The fuel to run the machinery, even if they’re able to use subsidised red diesel, will be dearer. 

And you might not know this, but food and beverage is a financial black hole for many golf clubs in this country. They’re absolutely thrilled if it breaks even. Now they’re going to be paying more for supplies.

I don’t have a crystal ball. I don’t know the financial position of my club or what they’ve got in mind for next year’s subscriptions.

But I am a betting man, and I’d be prepared to wager clubs will – if they haven’t done so already – have to consider a subscription increase 12 months from now.

That’s a rise that will go to a collective who – like me – will have that membership hole in their income.

After the huge gains of Covid, the industry has started to ask what’s next? How can they keep hold of these extra people who swooped to their clubs over the past two years?

Retention is the number one topic of conversation in the office. 

When they first embarked on those conversations, as lockdown lifted for the final time, what I’m sure they did not expect was an inflation-busting energy crisis and a European war to burst the bubble.

Experts often say that in times of hardship, leisure budgets are the first things to go. It’s a choice of what you like, against what you need.

Maybe some of you are scoffing at this. Perhaps you will be able to carry on regardless and fork out your fees even if your monthly outgoings have climbed substantially.

But for those who can’t, and for those who have recently joined clubs, how are they going to react if they’re soon presented with a lumpy bill on top of all their other new fiscal pressures?

I think the coming renewals period, at the beginning and spring of 2023, will be the most crucial golf has faced since we were all surprised at the sheer numbers of those turning up back in May 2020.

I’m interested to hear what you have to say. Could you comfortably afford your memberships as everything else around you climbs this year, or will a £3,000 energy bill – among everything else – force you to re-evaluate how you spend your cash? Have your golf club got ahead of the game and already hiked their prices?

How you, as a group, respond to these financial pressures could ultimately shape the game for years to come.

Have your say on how golf will tackle the cost of living crisis in the comments, or contact me on Twitter.

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