Dan Box
By Dan Box

Winter golf in the UK can be an acquired taste at the best of times, with only the most dedicated of golfers willing to put on their waterproofs and thermals only to be rewarded with a trudge across their soaking wet golf course, in freezing conditions.

Golf Course Closure Debate

When you're right in the middle of this painfully slow period, which we are right now, it's easy to be dramatic about just how unpleasant things are, but it really does feel like this winter takes the biscuit as one of the worst in living memory.

In fact, Met Office statistics for December and January back this up, with over 300mm of rain falling in the UK over the past two months, which is more than 120% of the average over the last 30 years. That's not to mention the brief spell of snow that we saw too!

As a result of this, golfers all over the country have had to contend with the closure of their golf courses for long periods, and when they are open, they're faced with shortened courses, temporary greens and those dreaded fairway mats (which are quite useful even if they are annoying).

Now this got us thinking - if golf clubs are going to be closed for weeks during the winter, should members still be expected to pay for 12 months of golf without any kind of refund?

This is a topic that reared its head during the Covid lockdowns of 2020 and 2021, and even ended up in court last year when one member argued that he was entitled to money back when he was unable to play golf.

In that case, the golf club was successful as they argued that membership did not guarantee golf for 365 days per year, especially in the event of a government-enforced closure, and the member still received benefit from his subscription fee at that time as the clubhouse and course was still being maintained.

So, should golfers be entitled to money back from their subscription fees if their course is closed for extended periods during the winter? Here at Golfalot we've put together some articles both for and against the argument to see whether we can find an answer.

Reasons Why You Should Be Refunded

It's a membership where you're paying for access.

If you can't get access, why should you pay? If you were a member of a gym or even had a subscription to something like Netflix or Sky Sports, and suddenly weren't able to use it for a month, you'd want your money back. Something similar could apply at the golf club. If you pay a full 7-day membership then you're basically saying that you want to be able to access the course and play golf whenever you want to.

If the course is closed for the odd day here or there, that's totally acceptable, but if you're not able to play golf when you want to for a longer period of time, then there's no point having the membership.

Golf is very expensive.

Forking out hundreds or even thousands of pounds per year is a big commitment for most people, and the prospect of paying this money and then not being able to play might turn people away.

This could especially be the case for younger people who might already see a membership fee as a big sacrifice - remember lots of golf club subscription fees really jump up as you move from your late teens into your late twenties and thirties. Do we really want to be putting these people off? Surely this is exactly the demographic that golf clubs should be encouraging to stay, as they are the future of the club.

What about those who pay monthly?

Annual subscriptions are one thing but if you're on a pay monthly or direct debit scheme, you might end up paying £100 for a month and then the course is closed for 3 of those weeks, giving you terrible value for money.

If you choose to pay by the month, could you not 'switch off' or 'freeze' your membership for a month if you know you're not going to play or use the facilities? Many gyms have options like this which allow people to come and go as they please, which would then make membership a more attractive option than just a one-off green fee.

Winter golf is not proper golf.

Paying either annual membership or a monthly direct debit essentially means that you pay the same for every month of the year, but should playing golf in the winter when you're on a shortened course (or even less than 18 holes), temporary greens and mats cost you the same amount as it does to play in perfect conditions in the summer?

The same goes for course closure: you'll end up paying the same for a full month's access in July as you might for 10 days access in December depending on whether the course is open or not. Does this make sense?

Reasons Why You Shouldn't Be Refunded

Your subscription fees are supporting the club.

Many clubs are struggling with rising costs of electricity and other bills, so putting money towards helping keep it running can't be a bad thing, especially when it is money that most people will have already put aside at the start of the year to spend on their golf.

There's not a lot that golf clubs can do about the weather - so why should they be punished?

Just because the course is closed, doesn't mean that the club is shut.

Golf clubs will offer a number of promotions even when the course is shut. You could head there for the afternoon and do some work in the lounge whilst having some food at a discounted members rate.

Many clubs will host themed evenings or show live sport, and some even have features like simulator studios or even snooker rooms where you can still meet up with your friends for a laugh without actually using the course to play golf.

The staff are still there and need paying.

Especially greenkeepers who will still be hard at work even if the club is shut. The club relies on the money for these staff to keep the course maintained and lots of that will happen even when the course is closed.

When it comes to the summer we all expect manicured fairways, perfect tee boxes and fast greens - all of this comes from work started in the winter months and cannot be ignored.

There's always another club to join.

If you want guaranteed golf for 12 months a year, you might have to think harder about the golf course you're a member of. You may also have to be content with the fact that the course will take more punishment during the winter months, and keeping it open could have an effect into the summer too.

Remember - golf clubs don't want to shut their course as it affects them just as negatively as it affects you. Apart from repeated attempts to improve drainage and winter facilities (winter tees, temporary greens etc) there's nothing a greenkeeper in the world can do about the weather either.

Most golfers still get plenty for their money anyway.

Even if the course was only open and consistently usable for 9 months a year, that still provides the opportunity for plenty of golf. If you played even once a week for 9 months, you'd be playing almost 40 rounds a year.

If your average yearly subscription is £1000, that's around £25 per round - which I'm sure most golfers would concede is decent value for money for 18 holes, especially if you're playing at the weekend.

Our Verdict

In an ideal world there might be some kind of compromise between the two arguments. There's plenty of examples of golf clubs who may give a month's free membership after a particularly bad winter, which serves as an acknowledgment of the situation and a thank you to the members for their loyalty.

All in all though, we still think that most golfers get good value from their memberships, especially if they are playing at least once a week during the warmer and drier summer months.

It's also worth remembering that you're a member of the golf club, and not just the course, and your subscription fee is for much more than just your Saturday morning stableford comp. Even if the club is shut you can still get access to the rest of the facilities, as well as helping to support the club and it's staff.

What do you think? Should there be some kind of system in place for when golf courses are closed for long periods in the winter? Let us know your thoughts below!


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