In a sense, this is very much a “how long is a piece of string?” debate and, ultimately, a pure maths equation if the other elements of membership beyond cost mean very little to you. Although those other elements to a golf club membership (e.g. competitions, camaraderie, the social side) might potentially add to the value of membership, we won’t be addressing them here as they are not part of any raw cost comparison.
Even so, there are a number of factors that each individual golfer needs to factor in when trying to work out whether or not it would be more cost-effective for them to be a member or a nomadic, pay-and-play golfer. There is no one-size-fits-all answer, but here are some of the most important factors you need to weigh up…
HOW OFTEN YOU PLAY
This is the most critical factor as the more often you play, the more likely it is that a golf club membership will be your most cost-effective option, bearing in mind that golf is considerably cheaper in some parts of the UK than others. Play once a week on the weekend in most parts of the country and the cost per round is almost certainly going to be less than it would be to pay and play, especially at weekends.
Golf membership fees vary a lot across the UK&I, but say a full membership is £1,000pa, then the cost per round would be just over £19, probably considerably less than the green fees per round are likely to be in areas where membership is four figures, especially given the increases in green fee rates at many clubs post-Covid. Yes, membership fees have gone up too, but probably not as high a percentage increase as green fees.
The other thing to factor in here is the added flexibility that membership gives you. Say you suddenly have a couple of days spare, or fancy an evening knock after work, you can do all that for no additional cost if you’re a golf club member, while the additional cost might deter you if you’re not.
Even if you’re not a once-a-week or even 40-rounds-a-year golfer, there may be membership options that could still make it cost-effective – flexible memberships that perhaps offer a certain number of rounds a year for a much lower membership fee; points-based schemes where rounds cost more or less depending on what day and what time of day you play; off-peak memberships that you could potentially take advantage of because of your lifestyle and/or work commitments. Where such schemes are available, they can prove a good option for certain golfers, although some clubs have tightened up on the availability of such options following the post-Covid membership boom that many have enjoyed.
WHAT TIME YOU PLAY
Green fees can be much cheaper on certain days or at certain times. If late afternoon or early evening golf really suits you then you’re likely to be able to benefit from some excellent twilight green fee rates that could significantly bring down the cost per round as a non-member – sometimes as much as a 50%+ reduction compared to the full green fees. Bear in mind that you may not always be able to get a full round in during the off-season in particular, although many clubs do err on the generous side with regard to when their twilight rates start. A smaller number of clubs also offer ‘early bird’ rates if the crack of dawn is more your thing, although again, they are probably less prevalent post-Covid.
While fewer clubs are now offering flexible membership schemes, many more are now offering age-graded memberships in response to their age demographic being far too high, with too few younger people being able to afford or justify the full membership fees.
If you’re 35 or under you may be able to get an excellent rate for membership that could make it a more cost-effective option than pay and play even if you only anticipate being able to play perhaps 20 times a year.
MEMBERS' GUEST RATES
Do you have friends who are members of various local clubs? That could potentially pave the way to sufficient cheap members’ guest green fees to keep you happy without joining a club, especially if you have friends at three or four reasonably local clubs. However, it’s worth noting that many clubs do restrict the number of times per year a member can introduce a certain person as a guest. A quick Google search reveals that six is the most typical figure, but at some clubs it’s only three times a year.
If you’re more interested in how cheaply you can play than where you play, then tee-booking websites such as GolfNow offer a wide range of attractively priced green fees at many clubs. If you’re also flexible over what time you can play, look out for the limited ultra-cheap Hot Deals available at participating clubs, which the company says can save you up to 80% compared to the standard advertised green fees.
We hope this article will help guide you to a cost-based decision that’s right for you when deciding whether or not to join a golf club.
Jeremy Ellwood has worked in the golf industry since 1993 and for Golf Monthly since 2002 when he started out as equipment editor. He is now a freelance journalist writing mainly for Golf Monthly across the whole spectrum from courses and Rules to equipment and instruction. He also edits The Golf Club Secretary Newsletter, a highly regarded trade publication for golf club secretaries and managers, and has authored or co-authored three books and written for a number of national papers including The Telegraph and The Independent. He is a senior panelist for Golf Monthly's Top 100 UK & Ireland Course Rankings and has played all of the Top 100 plus 91 of the Next 100, making him well-qualified when it comes to assessing and comparing our premier golf courses. He has now played well over 950 golf courses worldwide in 35 countries, right across the spectrum from the humblest of nine-holers in the Scottish Highlands to the very grandest of international golf resorts, but put him on a links course anywhere and he will be blissfully content.
Jezz can be contacted via Twitter - @JezzEllwoodGolf
Jeremy is currently playing...
Driver: Ping G425 LST 10.5˚ (draw setting), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 55 S shaft
3 wood: Ping G425 Max 15˚ (set to flat +1), Mitsubishi Tensei AV Orange 65 S shaft
Hybrid: Ping G425 17˚, Mitsubishi Tensei CK Pro Orange 80 S shaft