At least the fees are under par

A glut of golf courses in Richmond is making a wealthy man’s game a little more accessible.

In a trend that began two or three years ago and shows no sign of slowing, Richmond’s private and semi-private clubs are offering steep discounts to attract new members: slashing initiation fees, lowering monthly dues and offering “young member” plans.

“Today is probably the least expensive it’s ever been to join a club,” said Jamie Conkling, executive director of the Virginia State Golf Association.

The drop in private club prices comes thanks to surplus of courses built amid a golf boom in the early 1990s, when Conkling said industry consultants suggested opening a new course each day to keep up with demand.

Maggy Magee, the Dominion Club’s membership development director since 2008, said the specials defy conventions.

“When I came here, no one had ever dreamt of a trial membership,” she said.

The Dominion Club in Glen Allen introduced a trial membership in 2009, Magee said. The one-year membership came without an initiation fee. Magee said 78 percent of the memberships were renewed at the end of the trial period, this time with a $13,000 initiation fee.

Now, the Club at Viniterra is following suit. Viniterra, which opened in New Kent County in 2009, is offering a one-year, full-family trial membership for $1,800 — again with no initiation fee.

Martin Thompson, general manager of Jefferson Lakeside Country Club, said high fees are becoming thing of the past.

“It’s not a status thing anymore. … You have to operate more like a business now,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to have that barrier to entry.”

Jefferson Lakeside and Hanover Golf Club are both offering an initiation-free deal to new members who sign a two-year membership agreement. Hanover is offering two free months to members who retain their membership after the two-year period.

Birkdale and Brandermill golf clubs have also waived their initiation fees. Mike Hatch, general manager of both clubs, said the change was a response to similar moves by competing clubs. Previously, Brandermill charged a $2,000 initiation fee, and Birkdale charged $1,000.

Clubs are also starting graduated membership programs, which offer lower rates to younger new members. The Foundry, Meadowbrook and Hanover golf clubs have cut rates for members younger than 35 in the past three years.

Kortlynd Risser, membership and marketing director at Meadowbrook, said that 85 percent of new members from the past three months are younger than 35 years old.

Private clubs are also competing with high-end public courses that have slashed rates by up to 50 percent from what developers thought they could fetch when the clubs where built. For example, at Pendelton, which opened in Caroline County in 2007, the weekend rate is about $50. The club said that it projected it could charge closer to $80 per round.

Greg Nathan, a senior vice president at the golf research institute National Golf Foundation, said a lot of clubs are struggling to stay afloat.

“It’s a golfer’s market, and golfers are spoiled today,” Nathan said. Courses are “competing very hard for the golfers and offering some of the best values ever available to players.”

According to the National Golf Foundation, 26 private courses closed last year nationally. Conkling said it was the fourth consecutive year with a net decrease.

This year, Virginia has lost two and a half 18-hole equivalent courses, including one private course, the NGF reports.

The oversupply of golf courses will eventually come back in line with demand, Nathan said, allowing private clubs to bring rates back up. But Nathan added that golfers have time to capitalize on great club deals.

“This won’t happen overnight,” he said. “But the demand for private golf is alive and well.”

A glut of golf courses in Richmond is making a wealthy man’s game a little more accessible.

In a trend that began two or three years ago and shows no sign of slowing, Richmond’s private and semi-private clubs are offering steep discounts to attract new members: slashing initiation fees, lowering monthly dues and offering “young member” plans.

“Today is probably the least expensive it’s ever been to join a club,” said Jamie Conkling, executive director of the Virginia State Golf Association.

The drop in private club prices comes thanks to surplus of courses built amid a golf boom in the early 1990s, when Conkling said industry consultants suggested opening a new course each day to keep up with demand.

Maggy Magee, the Dominion Club’s membership development director since 2008, said the specials defy conventions.

“When I came here, no one had ever dreamt of a trial membership,” she said.

The Dominion Club in Glen Allen introduced a trial membership in 2009, Magee said. The one-year membership came without an initiation fee. Magee said 78 percent of the memberships were renewed at the end of the trial period, this time with a $13,000 initiation fee.

Now, the Club at Viniterra is following suit. Viniterra, which opened in New Kent County in 2009, is offering a one-year, full-family trial membership for $1,800 — again with no initiation fee.

Martin Thompson, general manager of Jefferson Lakeside Country Club, said high fees are becoming thing of the past.

“It’s not a status thing anymore. … You have to operate more like a business now,” he said. “It doesn’t make sense to have that barrier to entry.”

Jefferson Lakeside and Hanover Golf Club are both offering an initiation-free deal to new members who sign a two-year membership agreement. Hanover is offering two free months to members who retain their membership after the two-year period.

Birkdale and Brandermill golf clubs have also waived their initiation fees. Mike Hatch, general manager of both clubs, said the change was a response to similar moves by competing clubs. Previously, Brandermill charged a $2,000 initiation fee, and Birkdale charged $1,000.

Clubs are also starting graduated membership programs, which offer lower rates to younger new members. The Foundry, Meadowbrook and Hanover golf clubs have cut rates for members younger than 35 in the past three years.

Kortlynd Risser, membership and marketing director at Meadowbrook, said that 85 percent of new members from the past three months are younger than 35 years old.

Private clubs are also competing with high-end public courses that have slashed rates by up to 50 percent from what developers thought they could fetch when the clubs where built. For example, at Pendelton, which opened in Caroline County in 2007, the weekend rate is about $50. The club said that it projected it could charge closer to $80 per round.

Greg Nathan, a senior vice president at the golf research institute National Golf Foundation, said a lot of clubs are struggling to stay afloat.

“It’s a golfer’s market, and golfers are spoiled today,” Nathan said. Courses are “competing very hard for the golfers and offering some of the best values ever available to players.”

According to the National Golf Foundation, 26 private courses closed last year nationally. Conkling said it was the fourth consecutive year with a net decrease.

This year, Virginia has lost two and a half 18-hole equivalent courses, including one private course, the NGF reports.

The oversupply of golf courses will eventually come back in line with demand, Nathan said, allowing private clubs to bring rates back up. But Nathan added that golfers have time to capitalize on great club deals.

“This won’t happen overnight,” he said. “But the demand for private golf is alive and well.”

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Stone
Stone
10 years ago

Would be nice to have a list of Richmond area club dues and young membership offerings to see who has reduced the barrier to entry.

Chris Terrell
Chris Terrell
10 years ago

Initiation is gravy, monthly dues and money spent at the club are what fuel the engines of most clubs. A typical family may spend anywhere from six to twelve thousand dollars a year at their club on monthly dues, food, beverage, and entertainment depending on how often they make use of their club. A two thousand dollar initiation is small by comparison. And having said that, I cannot tell you how many people I have met who will spend that kind of money quite willingly for a two week vacation while simultaneously blanching at the supposed high cost of being… Read more »

Danny DeBoer
Danny DeBoer
10 years ago

Well said Chris. You must have served on the Board at your club.

DufferRIC
DufferRIC
10 years ago

Having followed this trend for several years, we’re still not at the bottom of this membership price reduction. It’s a slippery slope and several factors are contributing… 1- Once a club offers ANY deal, the club’s brand and status are diminished. The status symbol was a key component of why people were willing to pay full price initiation and substantial monthly dues. 2- Lower initiation fees and lower dues require a club to obtain more members and generate more revenue from all club operations. Once you head down this route, you’ll eventually end up at no entry fee, minimal dues,… Read more »

Marge Geneverra
Marge Geneverra
10 years ago

Hard to understand why anyone would pay an initiation fee these days.

The club could go out of business, taking your money with it.

Now it sounds like there’s also the risk of the club eliminating initiation fees all together. When they do this, I assume that they do not refund initiation fees to members who already paid them? You can have paid $20 grand up front, while your playing partner got in free.

jd
jd
10 years ago

I’m certain the economy is a big reason why clubs aren’t able to attract new members, but I’m curious about the public interest in golf, which sounds like the primary reason people join private clubs — to play golf. The game exploded in popularity when Tiger Wood, Phil Mickelson, etc. hit the tour, and many youth became interested in the game. But now that’s 10 – 15 years ago, and did those new avid golfers, who by the way are the young professionals the article mentions, are they still as avid about golf as they once were? Again, I’m sure… Read more »

Chris Terrell
Chris Terrell
10 years ago

Duffer – You make some good points but I disagree with you in a few key places. First, golf is a twelve month sport in Richmond for those who play a lot. Fifty degree days don’t keep us off the course. Second, public golf courses, no matter how nicely maintained, do not offer a similar experience compared to a private course. Rounds under four hours are the norm on private courses because pace of play is respected and the talent of golfer higher. Compare to five hour + rounds at crowded public venues. Tee times are easier to get. You… Read more »

DufferRIC2
DufferRIC2
10 years ago
Reply to  Chris Terrell

The number of rounds played substantially decreases in December, January, and February. Sure, you can still get out and play during those months, but it gets dark at 5pm, and most people with jobs can’t play after work. True private clubs offer many advantages with pace of play, no tee times, excellent practice facilities, member dining, swimming, tennis, fitness, social events, etc. However, the majority of the clubs in financial trouble don’t offer the true private club experience. Those clubs simply don’t make fiscal sense when compared to playing public courses. Maybe Meadowbrook CC is nice. I’m glad you like… Read more »

Chris Terrell
Chris Terrell
10 years ago

JD – You are on to quite a lot of it. An explosion of new courses plus the huge popularity of Tiger Woods created a glut of new golfers and venues. Ten years later golf rounds (public and private) are trending down while the number of courses (public and private) are still plentiful, even with some recent closings. http://www.waggleroom.com/2009/2/9/754131/us-golf-rounds-drop-most-i Combined with the challenges all clubs have attracting and retaining members and a stagnant economy and its plain old capitalism at work. There is simply too much supply and not enough demand and that problem (for the industry, not the golfer)… Read more »