'People Are Going To Keep The Hobby Going'

March 30, 2009

The headline in today's Marlborough (Mass.) Enterprise is "Country clubs whacked by economy," and there's no doubt clubs in this area just west of Boston are hurting. But I was actually surprised by how well they seem to be holding up -- at least to judge from the article.

The GM at semi-private Marlborough Country Club (pictured) tells the paper his club lost 67 members last year, a little more than double the usual annual attrition. But it signed up 60 new members. One reason: It decided to waive its $4,000 initiation fee and has frozen annual dues at $3,300 a year.

Framingham Country Club, meanwhile, reports a 12 - 15 percent decline in membership. Normally it has about 5 - 8 percent turnover per year, says the manager. It hasn't cut the cost of joining (a $17,000 bond and a $15,000 fee) but it is allowing new members to pay it off over time.

The area's more elite clubs seem to be less affected, unsurprisingly. The manager at the Donald Ross-designed Charles River Country Club in Newton says he's got a four-year waiting list for new members.

At Golfer's Warehouse in Natick, a spring sale last weekend drew a decent crowd, its manager told the paper. "People are going to keep the hobby going," he said. "Golf is kind of addicting, but I think anything is vulnerable."

UPDATE: A similar article appears in England's Daily Telegraph today. It contends that about half the U.K.'s 2,500 clubs have lost members and 19 of them have gone into administration this year alone. (When an entity goes into administration, that means an outside agency has been called in to unload its assets and pay off creditors.)

-- P.F.