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3 min read

Managing Private Golf Club Waitlists: What You Need To Know [Ep. 31]

For the first time in years, many private golf clubs have a waitlist for new members. For the clubs who have always had waitlists, this is nothing new. They have managed waitlists for years and have set protocol for these situations. On the other hand, hundreds of clubs are learning to manage a waitlist for the first time. This is part exciting and part terrifying with members lined up to join clubs and with membership directors wanting to make sure these "hot" prospective members can be converted into full, dues-paying members.

In This Episode:

  • Jason's Survey Findings (2:10)
  • Most Surprising Findings (7:45)
  • Provide Golf Privileges (11:30)
  • Dining Privileges Aren't That Interesting (13:00)

JASON'S Survey Findings

Jason Becker, the CEO of Golf Life Navigators, says this is unprecedented and while new membership activity will always ebb and flow, this is an important time for clubs wanting to capitalize on the increased interest in private clubs.

Becker and his team recently conducted a survey of more than 550 prospective private club members to better understand the mindset of the new member forced to wait in the wings. They found that not only do people not want to join a club with a waitlist - they won't.

"They're going to go to another market or another club,” said Becker in a recent Crushing Club Marketing podcast episode.

According to the survey, 70% of the respondents said they would not join a club with a waitlist. However, Becker identified some nuances based on the type of club and the initiation fees. Generally, more respondents were willing to be put on a waitlist for clubs that were perceived as more exclusive with higher initiation fees and deposits. On the other hand, respondents were less likely to join a waitlist at clubs perceived as less exclusive, with lower initiation fees. Admittedly, Becker says, many of the higher-end clubs have had waitlists long before COVID, so they know what to do to keep a prospect engaged.

For private club membership directors trying to figure out the best approach to managing waitlists, Becker offers the following recommendations:

  • Make your deposits non-refundable
  • Provide access to amenities, including golf
  • Don't kid yourself, dining privileges aren't that interesting

Make your deposits non-refundable

One way to ensure a qualified member prospect is going to join your club is if they agree to a non-refundable deposit, whether it be $1,000 or $25,000. A prospect willing to put down a non-refundable $25,000 will most likely wait it out to join your club. In fact, that member prospect probably expects to pay that type of deposit to join a club that may have a $100,000 initiation fee. Interestingly, Becker's team at Golf Life Navigators discovered at the lower end, not only were people not willing to put down a deposit, they were also not willing to join a club with a waitlist.

"They've got cash in hand, willing to even pay a premium," said Becker. "But they wanted immediate access and didn't want to wait 2 to 3 years."

So, know the persona of that prospective member, but keep in mind that without a non-refundable deposit, there is nothing that prevents that prospect from finding a club that he or she can join immediately.

Provide golf privileges

For private golf clubs, offer the waitlist members access to golf. It doesn't need to be full access, but some access is a good thing. Private golf clubs like Hazeltine National Golf Club, host site of the 2016 and 2029 Ryder Cup Matches, offer limited golf access as a way to bring waitlisted members into the club "family" without compromising the fluidity of the tee sheet. Becker believes this is an essential component of a successful waitlist program today, based on his survey.

"At the end of the day, it comes down to, ‘if I'm gonna write a check for $25,000 to go on a waitlist, I'd better be able to play golf’."

In fact, in Golf Life Navigator's survey of prospective members they found an astounding 94% of people said golf was the most important amenity to be able to access. Even with a high non-refundable deposit, the prospective member wants golf privileges, even if on a limited basis.

Dining privileges aren't that interesting

The survey found that non-golf amenities were not nearly as attractive. Just 43% of the people surveyed said that dining privileges were important or very important and just 26% said member events were important or very important. Becker says he has seen creative strategies for managing the waitlist, including having tiers that allow access to various amenities at different tier levels.

Regardless, Becker doesn't see drastic change for the club industry any time soon. All indications say that capacity is going to continue to be an issue, especially in the golf communities. With many clubs experiencing a lower attrition rate in the past and the recent surge in interest, waitlists for some clubs will be here for the foreseeable future.

"Every club has to sit down and really think through their own specific dynamics of how they can do it," Becker adds that once private clubs create a blueprint for their waitlists they should stick to them and avoid changes."Because that's when you're going to create the angst from those on the waitlist."

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