In this new golden age of course design and renovation, architectural enthusiasts have never been more aware of the vast wealth of global inventory. Opportunity runs much deeper than the top-100 lists that well-traveled golfers often dwell upon when collecting experiences.
That combination of awareness and inventory has prompted new models for access to exclusive clubs. From golf societies such as the Outpost Club to reciprocal collectives like the Eighty Club or Thousand Greens, connoisseurs have built arrangements to broaden the very concept of “club membership.”
Eligo Club provides another collective high-end private membership option. Its name, Eligo, sounds like a contraction of “elite” and “golf,” but it actually comes from the Latin word that means “to select.” That fits a private, invitation-only golf membership club that was founded 11 years ago in Europe and is spreading across the United States in regional markets.
“Our basic premise was to create the ultimate private golf club,” said Tom Guy, chief executive officer for Eligo Club in North America.
Its European flagship club, founded in 2009 by PGA professional Warren Pike with partners including former Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley, proved to be a huge success with its original collection of 11 exclusive courses. It has now sold out its 400 members with access and privileges at more than 85 of the best courses in Europe, including Old Head Golf Links and Valderrama Golf Club.
When Guy helped introduce the model in the U.S. in 2011, it developed a more regional concept. The first region to launch was New York, and it only has about 35 spots vacant before filling its 200-member cap. A little more than a year ago, Eligo opened another region in Philadelphia that is already half filled. There is overlap between the two regions with some high-end New Jersey courses and both have access to partner clubs in Florida for the winter.
With the traditional private club model suffering substantial unsubscribed inventory, partnering with Eligo has proven to be a boon. … Clubs that used to be hesitant about partnering are now calling Eligo to become affiliated.
“If you’re a New York member and want to play in Philadelphia or go to Europe you get access to pay lowest guest fees,” Guy said. “The New York clubs are part of your membership and you have member privileges.”
With a $12,000 cost for Eligo New York and $8,000 for Philly, members belong to more than 70 combined partner clubs throughout the area. It’s a good value for a young member in Manhattan, where the cost of joining a single private golf club can far exceed the Eligo dues.
“To the majority of our members, we’re a second or third club for them,” Guy said. “If we’re not, to someone under 40 and living in Manhattan without joining a club yet, we become the stepping-stone into private golf. In Philly and Europe we’re absolutely more of a second club.”
With the traditional private club model suffering substantial unsubscribed inventory, partnering with Eligo has proven to be a boon. The average age of the Eligo members is 43 with a handicap of 11.2 and the regional concept has each playing an average of 14 rounds per year and spending that money locally. Clubs that used to be hesitant about partnering are now calling Eligo to become affiliated.
“With our members around New York, we’re spending $1.6 million in the clubs we work with directly to the bottom line,” Guy said. “If it’s revenue and potential members a club wants, our members are local. They’re spending money and bringing significant revenue to your bottom line, which most clubs are looking for. We’re essentially a paying marketing partner for these golf clubs, a bridge to get these people in.”
In the pandemic market, Eligo has also provided a significant source of outing income to fill some of the losses after recent course shutdowns. It recently sponsored the New Jersey PGA Championship at Liberty National Golf Club and has a full schedule of events throughout the summer.
“Because of COVID a lot of golf courses have lost their outing revenue,” Guy said. “So, we’ve gone and bought dates to have events for members to turn up and play with three guests. We’re able to be great partners with these clubs with schedule of events through August. Also run member-guest tournaments, club championships, match-play throughout year. Our net and gross champion from each region club will play off against each other and fly to Europe to play against European champions in Spain in a spring invitational.”
Its popularity has grown organically to the point that Eligo will, in the coming weeks, launch a national membership for people who live more than 150 miles outside its regions.
“We used to hide in plain sight and now we’re out and people know more about us,” Guy said. “We’re getting more and more inquiries across America so the opportunity to create a national program has been very exciting for us.”
The national membership cost will be $3,200 per year plus a one-time joining fee of $1,500 that gets the member into any of its calendar events.
“At that price point we’ll sell out 250 national memberships in 18 months with the schedule of events we’ll put out at some of the best venues in the country,” said Guy, a solid English mid-amateur who grew up in Isle of Wight. “Already we have 25 guys waiting to join right now and we haven’t even talked about it yet. The U.S. is an area where there’s so much growth for us.”
Of course, the regional club concept is something Eligo intends to expand with the next likely markets being Chicago and Boston.
“Absolutely, we do plan to replicate our New York and Philadelphia models in about another five city/states in the next five years,” Guy said. “There’ll be clubs of Eligo memberships across the country and then national membership for parts in between. The goal would be to transition national members into regions with such strong partner clubs that they’ll be so enticed to convert to more local membership.”
Check out the website at www.eligoclub.com.
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