Private club waitlists are at an all-time high

How long will this demand last, or more importantly, how long will member prospects patiently wait?

Photo by Michael Jasmund on Unsplash

By Scott Kauffman

Supply chain backups and logistical logjams seem to be affecting every sector of America’s economy these days, and continued strong consumer demand only exacerbates these macro-economic matters.

To be sure, the golf industry is dealing with these same dynamics, and it’s not just confined to the retail side of the business. Another supply chain dilemma facing private clubs is how to deal with the growing backlog on member waitlists.

Indeed, just as COVID-19 caused a surge of renewed interest in the game and dramatic gains in national rounds played and overall revenue, private golf in particular appears to be thriving. At least that’s one way to describe the latest data from Golf Life Navigators and research partner Club Benchmarking, showing nearly half of the private clubs polled now have waitlists.

In a third quarter “Buying Trends” report released by Golf Life Navigator in early October, the Florida-based consulting firm said, “Demand for private golf and real estate remains at all-time highs as we enter quarter four of 2021.” One of the brightest barometers about the state of private golf is the resurgence of waitlists.

Certainly a growing topic of conversation for both member prospects and private club boardrooms, Golf Life Navigators and Club Benchmarking embarked on their timely waitlist study to offer further insight on how clubs can best maximize this good-news problem while demand remains so strong.

Among the results from the study, conducted with 400 private clubs and real-estate buyers in the Golf Life Navigators database actively looking for a new club or golf home, is that 44% of all clubs had waitlists as of May 2021. And the percentage remained static through August, said Jason Becker, co-founder/chief executive officer of Golf Life Navigators.

One of the more striking findings is the percentage of clubs with waitlists increases as the cost to join goes up. For instance, 24% of clubs with initiation fees of $5,000 or more reported having a backlog of member prospects; 40% of mid-range clubs or those with fees of $40,000 or higher have waitlists; and 71% of high-end clubs that cost $90,000-plus to join have excess demand that can’t be filled.

According to Becker and his Club Benchmarking research partners, the number of clubs reporting waitlist status has “increased almost 20%” since May 2020. Though upscale clubs with six-figure initiation fees were hovering in the 40% wait-list mark prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to Becker, the fact nearly half of the clubs polled from coast-to-coast now have one is remarkable.

“I don’t know of another time since I have been in the industry where demand has been this high,” Becker said.

Jim Butler, CEO of Club Benchmarking, agreed and said not in our lifetimes have we ever seen demand like this for private golf.

In a survey sent to buyers visiting the Golf Life Navigators website, 62% of buyers say they are “not likely” to “not at all likely” to join a club with a waitlist that is more than 9 months for a golf membership, while another 20% remained neutral on the question.

Regarding amenity access as they wait to become a full golf member, 83% said access to practice facilities would be important, while another 78% selected access to golf course dining during peak season.

Should a club seem like a great fit, 38% of respondents said they’d be willing to wait one to four months, while 42% said five months to one year. But 82% said they would not likely invest 50% of the initiation fee to hold their position on the waitlist.

So how long will this demand last, or more importantly, how long will member prospects patiently wait? Perhaps the answer lies in the survey that said 76% of the prospects looking to make a move said they are “not likely” to or “not at all likely” to purchase a home in a gated community if there is a waitlist.

Becker’s advice for the industry: “This is a red flag for gated communities, as a capture rate of full golf members has to be priority one. Although many clubs will have challenges with capacity, they still need to have some sort of preview membership or access to the course for waitlisted members. Otherwise, buyers many not engage with the club – or worse yet – buy a home in the gates.”

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