Leggatt, the former PGA Tour winner who has run Summit, a pretty terrific private golf club north of Toronto for the past few years, announced on Monday that he was cutting the initiation at the club to zero.
That’s right—he cut the cost join the venerable private club to nothing, when it has been more than $20,000 in the past. Some saw it as Summit struggling. Leggatt admits they are short members (“Every club in Toronto is basically in the same position,” he says), but says he’s just making an adjustment that other clubs will have to make soon.
“If you are sitting back and waiting for the market to come back, you’re going to be waiting a long time,” he says.
In fact, Leggatt says he feels the game is on the rebound. But for more than a year the former tour pro has insisted that cost is the big factor keeping people from joining a private club. They can afford the annual dues, which are typically more than $5,000 a year at a GTA club, but don’t have the wherewithal to pay $20,000 on top of that.
“Golf simply costs too much,” Leggatt says. “A majority of golfers would like to play at a private club if they could. They are already spending a lot playing elsewhere. But they don’t want to spend to cover the initiation. That’s the deterrent.
“So we just got rid of it,” says Leggatt.
Leggatt believes the move will bring in younger members and their families. He’s very vocal about the need to help create the next generation of golfers, and so Summit is allowing member’s children 16 and under to play for free.
“We’re trying to create a population of new golfers,” he says.
Leggatt proposed the move at the club’s AGM last weekend. He had quietly approached some golfers and asked whether the zero initiation would interest them and when the response was positive, he proposed it to the club who supported it.
“This is not a membership drive,” he says. “The model is fundamentally broken. This is what the market will bear. The days of people spending $30,000 or more to join a private club are over.”
Prospective members are still responsible for a $1,500 assessment relating to rebuilding the club’s greens, but Leggatt says he’s been flooded with interest.
One has to wonder if this model—more akin to what you typically see in the UK—will be adopted more widely in Canada as private clubs attempt to rework their business model.
Summit is in an interesting position to be the test case for the concept. The club struggled with winter damage to its greens, but made a massive investment in rebuilding a vast majority of them last summer to deal with ice issues. The club has removed a significant number of trees and rebuilt its seventh hole, which had issues with a neighboring road. In other words, new members will find a club in good shape ready to move forward.
Some feel dropping initiations will lead to transitory members who aren’t committed to the club.
Leggatt is convinced the new members will love Summit and will become long term members.
“People says time, difficult and cost are the barriers to the game, “ he says. “We’re trying to deal with the cost. The dynamic in the sport has changed.”