‘THERE is no reason for concern’ is the message from Durham County Golf Union after releasing figures showing another downturn in membership numbers.

Having finally bucked the trend of decline last time around, the 44 clubs across the area have reported a three-figure decrease in male subscriptions for the previous year ending 2016.

Although not an ideal scenario, the union’s chiefs are optimistic that the worst of the declining numbers is over.

Of Durham’s golf clubs there were 21 which reported an increase in numbers and 20 suffered a decrease; three remained the same year on year.

When you consider how significantly memberships have fallen during the last decade or so, though, there are hopes that things are on the up.

Jonathan Ward, the county’s secretary, said: “A reduction of 139 (less than three per club) may be a little disappointing compared to the increase of 600 in 2015, but we feel that the downward trend of the previous ten years has bottomed out.

“We feel that this is a combination of the good work clubs are doing around introducing flexible memberships to suit all and clubs better understanding their member needs in order to add value to membership.

“The development work that clubs are engaging in, supported by England Golf and Golf Foundation development officers, is also starting to pay off with more clubs adopting national recruitment and retention schemes each year.”

The Wynyard Club reported the biggest increase in numbers, with an extra 90 joining in 2016. Rockliffe Hall, another of the region’s most prestigious clubs, saw numbers climb by an extra 82. Further north, Boldon and Hobson saw the next two highest increases by 31 each.

Andrew Betts, head professional at Wynyard, said: “I think there are a number of reasons that we enjoyed the number boost.

“We have got a good course here and top facilities to come, practice and socialise. We have just had a GC2 golf simulator put in too, to add to the experience.

“I also think that due to the fact that our club and clubhouse is a relaxed environment to come and socialise, it’s a nice place where you can come and bring your family, your children, and I think that helps. The company that owns our golf club (Jomast) has also invested in the course and the facilities, it has also made sure it has got the name out there to show the ongoing good work that is being done. For those reasons we have attracted new members from other clubs in the area.”

It was not all good news across the board, with plenty of clubs losing out too. South Moor, near Stanley, has reported the biggest drop of 87 members, while Newton Aycliffe’s Oakleaf was down by 70 and Seaton Carew reported 57 members disappeared after 2015.

Such drops did spark the likes of South Moor and Seaton Carew, both designed by Augusta National architect Alister MacKenzie, into improvements and there has been more positive news coming out of both clubs during the past eight months.

Ward, speaking on behalf of the non-profit making union, has been encouraged by what he has heard at a number of clubs.

He said: “We have had a better winter so far than we did last year and that normally helps numbers. But overall I think we are noticing that more and more clubs are realising it can be a vicious circle out there, so if you cut down on, say, a greenkeeper, and lose some money, then your course will take a hit.

“I know that courses like Chester-le-Street and Seaton Carew have invested in their courses and have benefited from it with very good reviews. Clubs are now thinking it might be wise to invest and we are seeing signs that there are more becoming proactive rather than reactive.”

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