THEIR golden days may be over, but gaining entry to one of the territory's exclusive sports clubs remains as difficult and expensive as ever - which is good news for those who deal in second-hand memberships. Even as expat packages get axed, economic indicators remain down, and anxiety over 1997 continues, the established clubs remain rock-steady. But other smaller and less prestigious clubs are desperately trying to add new members, fuelled by fears that their core customer base - the expatriate executive - could dry up after 1997. Some new ones - especially golf clubs in Shenzhen - cannot fill their existing membership quotas. However, the established clubs say they will continue to raise debenture or membership fees by 10 to 20 per cent, and have waiting lists as long as 20 years. Similar to unsecured bonds, because they can rise or dip in price, many club debentures not only grant membership rights, but also give joint-ownership status. And unlike simple memberships, debentures can be bought and sold at a market price. Because demand for debentures has historically exceeded the supply - the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club reports a waiting list of 17 years - they have appreciated greatly in value. Clubs also raise the market value of second-hand debentures, which generally lag 10 to 20 per cent behind in value, by raising the price of a new debenture. And rise they have. Debentures have tripled on average since 1988, according to Paul Savage, Hong Kong Debenture Exchange director. Debenture prices at the Hong Kong Country Club have increased 500 per cent since 1987 to $1.5 million, says a club official. Debentures at Clearwater Bay Golf and Country Club which sold for $800,000 in 1988 peaked at $3 million in 1993. Secondary debentures are currently trading for about $2.5 million. However, the exchange, which deals in second-hand corporate and individual club memberships, has seen fewer buyers this year. 'There's definitely a downturn, with a lot of companies cutting back on expatriate benefits or hiring few expats,' said Peter Yee, marketing manager at the Exchange. Even the prestigious clubs have been affected. Despite a waiting period of nearly two decades, the secondary market price for a corporate debenture at the Royal Hong Kong Golf Club has dropped from $11.25 million to around $7.5 million, according to a source at the Club. Most of the clubs surveyed will only admit that usage of the club facilities, especially dining, is lower than previous years. 'Our food and beverage sales are down,' admitted Joe Oxley, general manager at the Pacific Club. Nevertheless, corporate debenture fees at the Pacific Club increased 12 per cent last year to $570,000, and Mr Oxley says fees will probably rise the same amount this year. Mr Savage feels that because many clubs are already full and not issuing any new debentures, they are fairly insulated from small dips in the economy. But long-term factors could be more important. Athletic and recreational facilities are being built in once hyper-urban Hong Kong. And many new apartment developments include facilities such as tennis and squash courts, and swimming pools. Hong Kong's first public golf course, on the island of Kau Sai Chau in Sai Kung, will open on December 27. More significantly, the rush to build new golf courses across the border in Guangdong has created a temporary glut in golf clubs. Many people who bought debentures in golf clubs in Shenzhen hoping to speculate, are now unable to sell their memberships for a profit. 'I know someone who bought a membership at a golf club in China who hasn't been there in 17 months,' Mr Yee said. 'He's just sitting on it, but the price hasn't gone up.'