‘Very few people have asked for a refund’

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 29, 2020 15:28

The secretary manager of the seventh oldest golf club in the world has said that golfers have generally been expressing support for his club so far during the coronavirus lockdown, but he is understandably concerned about the future.

Speaking to The Scotsman, David Roy of Crail Golfing Society stated: “What has been interesting is that very few people have asked for a refund. The vast majority are saying, if we can come later in the year, then that’s what we want to do. It gives me optimism that people are not going to suddenly say, I’m going to give up golf and start cycling instead. There’s still a great demand for people to get out there with their clubs and my sense is the more people are cooped up, the more that hunger for the game will increase.”

Crail, like every golf club in the UK at the moment – and most in the world – is currently closed, with many in the industry fearing what is now a very uncertain future.

“What I have found since the closure of the facilities here at Crail is that members clearly care and I think this will probably be true about the vast majority of golf clubs. They obviously care about the staff, with members explaining on a number of occasions this week that they want the staff to be safe and secure,” he said.

“They also care about their fellow members and that’s because people in golf clubs know the vast majority of fellow members and they don’t want anything untoward to happen to them. Importantly, they also care about the viability of their club.”

Crail Golfing Society. © Facebook

Roy also detailed what the club has done regarding the employment status of staff.

“We were able to furlough all the green staff bar the course manager and his deputy. It is quite an undertaking for two guys to take on the maintenance of two golf courses, as is the case here with the Balcomie Links and Craighead Links. They did so willingly and took it on the chin,” he explained.

“The clubhouse staff have also been furloughed while the office staff understand that our role at the moment is to manage the situation and enable visitors to move their tee time, cancel member competitions and pay the bills.

“We have been kept at full steam managing the situation, with the committee chipping in as and when required. That’s harder than normal to do with almost all communication carried out electronically, so many urgent changes have had to be dealt with by the captain, finance convenor and myself.”

Like probably every golf club manager and owner in the UK, Roy is aware of how severe the lockdown could be for his venue.

“We had several hundred visitors’ reservations through the whole of April. We’ve had to completely clear the decks, getting in touch with either golf tour operators or people directly and thankfully everyone has been extremely helpful and understanding.

“The worry that everybody has at the moment – and this isn’t exclusive to golf clubs – is what happens if it goes beyond three months. With the help being offered by the government, coupled with our financial reserves, we will be OK until our subs start coming in again in December.

“Speaking to my colleagues in clubs like us, there seems to be that same level of reserves. But, if it goes beyond the three months, it is not just Crail and the golf club that will be in difficulty, it will be the entire world economy. That is completely imponderable.

“But, so long as it follows the curve that everyone keeps talking about i.e. roughly the one China managed, it looks like we should be OK come the AGM, which, for us, is the first Monday in December.

“As for what will happen generally at golf clubs at the end of this, I think it will definitely be a bridge too far for some clubs in terms of being able to survive. When the world economy takes a big hit and, let’s not forget, golf is absolutely a discretionary spend, even a modest amount of people deciding to give up memberships will cause a number of clubs to fold.

“There are a significant number of golf clubs currently running at a deficit and, in the absence of them being able to sell off assets or get help from a few wealthy benefactors, there is going to be an unwelcome number of clubs going to have to shut the door at the end of this.”
Roy added that the club is still acting as a focal point to its members.

Crail Golfing Society. © Facebook

“Keeping in touch with members is critical and even more so at this time,” he said. “That’s why we have discussed the possibility of creating a video on aspects of the club that members might not know about. What goes on behind the scenes, for example, and historical artefacts. Anything to make them feel connected to their club.”

Supporting the idea that golfers are supporting their clubs, The Scotsman has also reported on Gordon Milligan, who was going to end his membership of Duddingston Golf Club but has decided to renew as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Following the recent chaos in the world, I thought it was only decent to stand up and help out Duddingston in a small way during tough times,” he said.

“I am in a fortunate position, however for people with a family mortgages and other debts to pay, suddenly the golf club sub is one way of freeing more money and the easiest thing to do is cancel a direct debit.

“There will be no doubt a reduction in clubs to come, but golf clubs have been part of the fabric of the working-class community throughout Scotland and long may that continue.”

Duddingston Golf Club. © Facebook

This also comes as Brora Golf Club officials have said they are overwhelmed by support received after its president admitted the club could struggle to survive through the coronavirus outbreak.

The club has issued an online statement which says members will shortly be informed of ways in which they can support the club’s future.

The statement said: “We have been truly overwhelmed with the messages of support for our club and course. We will update you with how you can help in the coming days.”

An earlier letter from the club to members stated: “This virus has wide ranging effects. The committee, who spend many hours working on behalf of the members, have been working doubly hard just to keep the club going.

“We need the support of all our members at this time if we are to survive.

“This is a member owned golf club and the members will determine whether or not we exist beyond this.”

Brora Golf Club. © Facebook

As an example of the extraordinary financial situation the golf industry finds itself in, it has been reported that The PGA Tour is stepping in to assist golfers and caddies who are financially struggling as a result of the suspension of play due to the pandemic.

“Playing opportunities equate to financial opportunities, and we are concerned about the toll that cancelled tournaments are having on some of our members,” wrote Tyler Dennis, a senior vice president and the tour’s chief of operations.

By law, the tour can’t pay golfers money they haven’t earned. But the PGA Tour can advance up to $100,000 in bonus earnings per player, based on where he stands on the FedExCup list. Any monies advanced now will be deducted from season-ending bonuses that will be earned, provided play resumes this season.

Among other initiatives, the tour also will allow players to take money from the retirement funds.

Caddies can request financial assistance through the Caddie Benevolent Fund. Additionally, the tour is granting the “partial mid-season distribution of an endorsement program,” according to the Golf Channel.

And, astonishingly, vandals have targeted Oldmeldrum Golf Club in Scotland – three days after the lockdown started, leaving tyre tracks on the grass.

Mitch Good, greens convener at the club, said a passerby told him about the damage.

He said: “They haven’t spun the wheels on the green like they did last year, but they drove the car over it.

“These idiots are out doing this and we’re supposed to be on a Covid-19 lockdown.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 29, 2020 15:28
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10 Comments

  1. Gas May 6, 08:57

    Do you think you are entitled to you money back from you membership for the golf club being closed for 6/8 weeks

    Reply to this comment
  2. Baz March 31, 10:48

    This will sort good from the bad ,and the bad won’t survive. When you think some golf clubs have taken the stance New customers only and the loyal customers over the years count for nothing, we will see !

    Reply to this comment
  3. Ibbo March 31, 09:32

    It started to go wrong when clubs allowed people to play who were not a member of another club and did not have a handicap. They then saw a decline in membership so waived the entry fee then they shot themselves in both feet by reducing greenfees. It’s been a race to the bottom.

    Reply to this comment
    • Eddie March 31, 11:38

      When all this is over I think it would be nice if all members chipped in a pound or two to give the green staff a little bonus as a thank you.

      Reply to this comment
  4. Simon March 31, 09:28

    Quite a sad finish to the article about clubs closing. If we can gradually begin to reopen golf from June, i think all golfers will respect social distancing and it could save a number of clubs. It may also save a few people’s lives as the exercise element is a big factor for the older generation

    Reply to this comment
  5. Arnie March 30, 16:32

    The club in question should be ashamed. 20 years of fees and monies spent at the club equates to a fair amount. I hope this trend is not followed by other clubs.

    Reply to this comment
  6. Stuart H March 30, 15:41

    Its not just a difficult situation for Golf Clubs but a difficult situation for everybody. As a former professional golfer I live to play golf as it is an opportunity to let me get lost in my own little world for a few hours. Following the onset of this terrible virus it became apparent as a Pensioner that times were going to be very difficult both on a personal and financial level (fixed income, substantial fall in value of drawdown pension and increased living costs). In addition my wife has a serious underlying health condition which makes it important I don’t contract the virus and pass it on. I have been a member of my current Golf Club in Essex for over 20 years so I approached them to see if they would grant absent membership for a year (this is where you pay a reduced subscription for the year and then rejoin the following year). I thought paying a reduced subscription this year and then reverting back to full membership next year would be a better option than nothing at all. The request was turned down so my membership ceases on 31st March 2020. It shows me that being a loyal member for over 20 years and a former board member counts for absolutely nothing. The local Municipal Course awaits when this is over.

    Reply to this comment
    • Arnie March 30, 16:37

      Club in question should be ashamed. Problem with golf at the moment is a lot of new and existing members can just jump ship with no joining fees and leave to go elsewhere. I played in the 80s and recall memberships having 5 to 10 years waiting lists with joining fees and people paid it and in general clubs appeared to flourish. Where and why did it all start to go wrong????

      Reply to this comment
  7. Stephen March 29, 16:59

    Nice article Alistair Dunsmuir. I’m not sure what the outcome will be for clubs already in red but will be interesting to see what support the Scottish Golf union and England Golf (English Golf Union Ltd) put in place.

    Reply to this comment
  8. Jon P March 29, 15:42

    I do hope so!! A positive sales forecast will be much needed. The challenge will be getting everyone on the course, a good problem to have. We are here to help support when we can our businesses open again.
    #inittogether #leisure #hospitality #golf

    Reply to this comment
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