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Nov 27th, 2020

Was COVID the vaccine golf clubs needed?

2020 may be a watershed moment for the industry

This time last year it was not looking particularly rosy for the golf industry in the UK. Participation figures for golf had risen slightly but the outlook for many clubs up and down the land was bleak. Membership figures were falling and there was a trend forming as the body of nomadic golfers rose.
Now, where is my mashie niblick?!

In March 2020, disaster struck as COVID-19 swept the world and the national lockdown arrived. As clubs closed down and began furloughing staff a general panic seemed to grip the boards of many golf clubs. Some clubs offered reductions in fees or deferments but the vast majority fearing financial ruin pressured members to pay their subs in full with very little apparent regard to their members.
Many treasurers produced cash flow forecasts predicting large falls in profits and large holes in the club's finances. Armageddon was about to be unleashed on golf and then just as the metaphorical Bruce Willis was getting ready to be fired up into space the world seemed to change.
Golf became one of the first sports to cast off the shackles of lockdown and suddenly every man and his dog were dusting down those old Ping Eye 2s they purchased all those years ago and was online booking a game of golf.
Tee booking systems crashed under the demand and across the country golf courses were rammed full of golfers playing in two balls. Clubs pushed for visitors to plug that gap created due to the loss of societies and the course closure.
It was golf in its most basic form. Turn up at the course, change your shoes in the car park and head to the first tee and after the round tap putter with your oppo and head home. Clubhouses were only open for those desperate for a pee and so only a skeleton staff was all that was required.
The board get post lockdown golf going!

As the scientists decided restrictions could be relaxed golfers celebrated as the weekend roll up three and four-ball returned, and club competitions resumed still only a takeaway style offering post the round but a step back to normality.
Helped by the weather golfers continued to flock to the courses and the sale of equipment rocketed. The summer of 2020 became one massive golf frenzy as the professional game also returned to television screens.
Ahead of the latest forced closure of courses clubs were reporting big take ups in memberships across the board. The latest closures across the UK will not be as damaging as the weather turns more wintery and visitor levels would have been much lower.
What is likely to become clear soon is that COVID-19 has not caused a financial crisis for clubs but rather the complete opposite.
The availability of taxpayer cash to furlough the majority of club staff along with the reduction in operating costs such as rates and utilities combined with the revenue generated by the “golf frenzy” has benefited clubs.
Staff costs form a huge chunk of the operating costs of a golf club and many run a deficit on the catering side of the operation. The fact the clubs have been able to maintain the top line whilst reducing costs is producing a windfall.
So as a real vaccine for COVID-19 looks within our grasp golf clubs may well look at 2020 as the year, they received a booster of their own. Clubs will enter 2021 on a wave of euphoria with membership numbers up and healthier bank balances.
As sport returns next year and normal service resumes, let's hope the clubs don't rest on their laurels. If they fail to recognise that the challenges they faced pre COVID may well return and that change is required, then the sickness may return and for once we are not talking about the Coronavirus!

TAGS: Eds Letter, Golf Business, COVID-19, 2020

And another thing...