Are Superclubs The Way Forward For Australia?

British novelist J.K. Rowling once said you sometimes have to join forces with those you’d rather avoid. While she was referring to a mystical wizard in the best-selling book series of all-time, Harry Potter, those wise words hold some credence in Australian golf, too.

Just ask the folk at Huntingdale and The National golf clubs, who magically appeared in unison recently to propose a landmark merger that may very well change the face of golf club membership in this country.

Already boasting three outstanding courses at its Cape Schanck site on the Mornington Peninsula, and the Long Island layout near Frankston, The National will expand its offerings with one of the country’s most cherished Melbourne Sandbelt layouts after the respective club captains released a statement last month confirming preliminary discussions were underway to form a Victorian superclub that would provide its collective members access to a handful of top-shelf golf courses, all under one membership.

Even if the proposal doesn’t get the final tick of approval by board members, at the very least it has got Aussie golf clubs actively thinking about how they can take control of their own destinies. One general manager confirmed as much, revealing merger talks were the toast of the summer among club officials attending our major tournaments.

“What this announcement has done is finally allow conversations to be had – conversations that should have been held a long time ago,” says our managerial source under anonymity. “It was amazing to see so many club captains and presidents throwing around ideas and discussing how such a bold move could benefit their club long term. Make no mistake, this proposal will change the landscape (of club membership) in Melbourne forever, particularly on the Sandbelt.”

Australian Golf Digest understands Huntingdale had been exploring merger options for a while and even came close to securing deals previously. A new world-class clubhouse and various course upgrades didn’t come cheaply, leaving the club with a big loan and short on capital to make further much-needed improvements. Joining forces with The National will solve any financial restraints moving forward and provide its members with four other avenues of enjoyment. Likewise, National members will have access to the traditional home of the now defunct Australian Masters and a place on the prestigious Sandbelt they can officially call their own. 

It seems like a genius move on both clubs’ behalf, yet not everyone is convinced the move is a win-win. One concerned member of The National contacted AGD via e-mail this month to voice his disapproval:

“The National has 3,000 members of which about 2,400 are shareholders. Most of us live in or near the south-eastern suburbs of Melbourne and about 500 have current Sandbelt memberships. Were this merger to proceed, most of those 500 would give up their memberships at Metropolitan, Commonwealth, Yarra, etc. because why would you have two Sandbelt memberships and pay and extra $4,500 per year in subs? This merger will likely hasten the demise of our already struggling private member clubs. Only Royal Melbourne and Kingston Heath could withstand 100-plus members leaving in a single hit. My playing partners and I are secretly hoping the board at The National are using Huntingdale as a stalking horse to flush out Metropolitan, Kingston Heath or Victoria to do a deal with.”

Another general manager of a high-profile club views things a little differently. “I don’t see a member of Royal Melbourne, who is also a National member, giving up their RM membership and then having to play Huntingdale,” he says. “I spoke to several Sandbelt-club members at the World Cup of Golf in November who were also National members, and none of them have any intention of playing Huntingdale unless their club had a course closure. However, all were very happy with the merger idea as it improved their share value.” 

The real paradigm shift could come with prospective members with no prior allegiance to a Sandbelt club. As a newcomer to the area, why wouldn’t you sign up to a club that can also offer you access to four  top-ranked courses down the freeway?

“Naturally this move will cause some angst among other Sandbelt clubs – they won’t be drawing from the same pipeline (of potential members) – but I can’t see it affecting their current positions. Long term, however, who knows?” adds our source.

Whatever your viewpoint, the notion of a superclub needs further consideration because of what it provides: consolidation and added value to club membership, which is ultimately what every club in the country is trying to achieve to ensure their share of a diminishing pie. It’s a simple blueprint that’s already a proven success – just Google the newly formed Peninsula-Kingswood Country Club in Melbourne. It could soon be the No.1 golf facility in the country… legitimately. Why? Because it chose to be proactive while it still had time, not reactive when it was too late. Choose wisely.

Brad Clifton