Florida club raises fees, sees membership go up

Most U.S. golf properties remain reluctant to raise their greens fees, but exactly how price-sensitive are today’s golfers?

When the operators of the city of Palatka, Florida’s golf course raised their annual fees, they got a pleasant surprise: They sold more memberships.

“We increased membership prices by 10 percent, and the membership increased 35 percent,” one of the course’s managers told the Florida Times-Union.

The explanation? Long-overdue upgrades to the neglected course and its clubhouse attracted formerly disenchanted customers, and improved service keeps them coming back.

“We found out that our customers are not price-sensitive,” the manager explained. “They’re conditioning-sensitive, and they’ve been coming back since they found out what kind of shape we were in.”

All of which leads me to ask a critical question: How well do the nation’s golf courses know their customers?

It’s easy to understand why most companies in the U.S. golf industry concentrate on the top end of the market: That’s where the money is. And in recent years, more and more money has been flowing upward. Between 2009 and 2011, according to a study by the Pew Research Center, our nation’s upper crust — the top 7 percent of U.S. households — increased their average net worth by 28 percent, while everybody else’s net worth fell by 4 percent.

“It has been a very good recovery for those at the upper end of the wealth distribution,” one of the study’s authors said to the Washington Post. “But there has been no recovery for the lower 93, which is nearly everybody.”

All this is confirmation of an old story: The rich get richer.

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