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The Diminishing Club Initiation Fee, Ireland Edition

Thanks to Peter Finch for Tweeting Brian Keogh's in-depth look at the ever-diminishing initiation fee for golf clubs in Ireland, along with a list of current entrance fees.

The demise of the golf membership entrance fee in this country is now a reality as we head into 2013, yet there is still a hardcore of well-established clubs that continue to resist being drawn into what Castle Golf Club’s John McCormack describes as "the race to the bottom".

"The race to the bottom is a spiral downwards that’s scary," says McCormack, who manages a hugely popular Dublin club that still charges an entrance fee to new members. "In that kind of race it’s the people with the deepest pockets who are the ones that will survive."

Far from elitism, Castle’s philosophy is based on sound business sense. Entrance fees are used to maintain the club to a high standard so that members do not slip away quietly when tough economic times come along and harsh choices are made at home.

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Reader Comments (7)

I have a divided opinion regarding plunging "initiation fees" that are happening here in the U.S. as well. First, it's making "country club golf" much more affordable. Here in the Seattle area, a well-known -- almost Famous -- club was some $35,000 when I inquired perhaps four years ago.... now they'll let me in for only 12 grand. And I'm giving it serious consideration.

Another one-time "rich boys" club was charging $80,000 when it first opened perhaps 10 years ago. Great golf course, famous designer, etc. But the economic downturn purged a load of members and when that happens, something has to give. Thus today, this same golf course is almost without food service and a reduced maintenance schedule. See, that's the other side of the coin: with reduced fees, pikers like you and me can now afford a country club but what are we getting for our money? Less maintenance, fewer services, etc. If this keeps up, we'll be paying for a "private club" that's in the condition of the muni track we were trying to GET AWAY from.

What do do, huh?
11.12.2012 | Unregistered Commenterbenseattle
I'm Irish and am inclined to say that ‘affordability’ is the biggest issue facing golf in these times of austerity. It worries me that we may not yet have yet seen the worst. But, there is more to it than that. Changing lifestyles is a highly significant factor. People have changed, families have changed and it is a global phenomenon. Golf no longer fits in with modern family lifestyles. Golf is not well perceived by young wives. Husbands can no longer spend time at the golf club without 'permission.' One key to solving the dilemma is the ball. If the ball issue were tackled, shorter courses, faster rounds would follow and it might be easier to getaway for 9-holes. Perhaps, more time and money spent in clubhouses would also ensue? If (too many) golfers from Asia begin to dominate the game at the highest levels, it will be ‘curtains’ for the game in the established counties. I've been a golfer for 52 of my 67-years, I think I may have seen the best of it and got the most out of it. It may be time to take up fishing or painting watercolors.
11.12.2012 | Unregistered CommenterIvan Morris
benseattle, just like when one buys a luxury automobile, there is the cost of purchase, and the ongoing cost of ownership. Pay close attention to both. I'd ask a lot of hard questions about membership levels and also you'd probably do well to familiarize yourself with the ol' 990-finder if you haven't already done so ;-) Good luck.
11.12.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDTF
Are you suggesting that some people might be surprised at certain line items on a club's 990? Say GM salary...for example?
<< benseattle, just like when one buys a luxury automobile, there is the cost of purchase, and the ongoing cost of ownership. Pay close attention to both. I'd ask a lot of hard questions about membership levels and also you'd probably do well to familiarize yourself with the ol' 990-finder if you haven't already done so ;-) Good luck. >>

Yes, lot of question asked, you bet. (Funny, though, that as Initiation Fees have dropped, monthly DUES have not. The second club I mentioned? $700 per month.)

But -- in all seriousness -- was this "990?" I'm in the dark on that.
11.12.2012 | Unregistered Commenterbenseattle
The 990 is the club's IRS filing. Contains some interesting data that a lot of clubs would rather their membership not see.
S&T is right.

ben, just type *990 Finder* into google and the link will come up. Punch in the name of the club in question and select Washington as the state...about 6-7 years worth of tax documents will come up that you can review. Most private clubs are set up as 501-C3 non-profits and they must make these forms available to the public. The 990 will show operating trends, debt levels and the changes in such over the years, some clubs list the number of members, a lot break out "initiation fees" so you can get some feel for membership turnover, compensation of anyone that makes over $100k (this one can be a real eyeopener at times!), etc... And yes S&T, the situation you refer to is something else. Right now I'm reading a book about Bear Stearns and one of the interesting themes is how Jimmy Cayne (the CEO) insulated himself politically and was beyond reproach from just about anyone for a long period of time....nothing lasts forever and ultimately it ended badly. Oddly I find that other situation surprisingly similar.

ben, as for the dues, most clubs have a *cap* on the number of golfing members, social members, etc... Many many really good old line clubs were full for decades, and even had waiting lists. Those days are over. Many of these same clubs now are operating well below the cap. It's a tough situation because increasing dues might run off even more what to do? A club can cut some costs but there are only a certain number of levers to be pulled in that area. Then they can run at a deficit for a while, but can't do that forever. That's when their backs get up against a wall and current members ask themselves "do we want higher dues, or do we want to admit some new members at a lower initiation fee"? And then what if lower initiation fees still don't get a club back up to the cap? I'm seeing it's a struggle. Do your homework so the ongoing costs of ownership don't jump up and surprise you!
11.13.2012 | Unregistered CommenterDTF

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