Covid-19 survey of golf clubs to be presented to government; Concern over golf clubs grants; A leisure trust launches an appeal for donations

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir April 22, 2020 09:40

An economic survey of golf clubs in Northern Ireland, against the backdrop of the coronavirus pandemic, will be presented to both the governments on the island of Ireland to ensure that the industry can bounce back when lockdown measures have eased.

This comes as an historic golf club in England warns that the way rateable values of businesses are calculated could have a devastating effect on clubs hoping to receive pandemic relief grants.

Kevin Stevens, executive officer of the Ulster Branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland, has told the Belfast Telegraph that his branch has conducted a survey of clubs, which will be part of a report to be presented to both the Stormont assembly and the government in the Republic of Ireland.

Stevens believes golf has the capability of bouncing back very strongly, even if it is a staggering process of a return to normality.

“I don’t believe it will be a case of going from no golf to the next day going back to the way things used to be. It could be that we start with only members in a limited way… it will be essential that the approach will have the support of government,” he said.

“We’re dealing with an unknown, working in a vacuum which makes it very hard, but as a sport we intend to be ready, we want to be ahead of the game when the moment comes to be able to get back on the course.

“We’re working with the government on a get-back-to-golf plan. We’ll be emphasising how important the sport is, how golf is good when it comes to mental health.

“We’ve recently conducted a survey with the clubs and when we process the data and the information then we’ll produce a report which will give us a good perspective of where clubs are at. But, we know that only when clubs open up again will we know the full financial impact.”

As plans continue to be put in place for when the moment arrives for golf clubs to return to some sort of normality, Stevens insisted Northern Ireland would not act alone. Rather, there will be an island-wide return of golfers to their local courses.

“It would be a case of courses opening up in Northern Ireland if lockdown restrictions were eased but not in the south and vice-versa. We couldn’t have an exodus of golfers heading south or north to play,” said Stevens.

“The good thing from golf’s point of view is that you are able to adhere to social distancing quite easily but we just have to get over that first hurdle of the government’s current message of staying at home.”

This comes as another historic golf club has revealed it has failed to secure a government grant.

Frinton Golf Club in Essex, which is celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, has been told it can not receive a Covid-19 grant of up to £25,000 for businesses operating in the retail, hospitality and leisure sectors, because the grant is only available to businesses with a rateable value less than £51,000.

Frinton Golf Club. Image from Facebook

According to the Daily Gazette, a spokesman for the club said the rateable values are an “anomaly with regard to golf clubs” and warned the club’s reserves will be tested.

The value is set by the Valuation Office Agency, but as it is based on land, golf club directors claim the figure is ‘over-exaggerated’ for the size of the business.

He said: “Using Frinton Golf Club as an example, our rateable value is approximately £89,000.

“Nevertheless, we are still a small business with a turnover of approximately £1 million and we employ 13 members of staff.

“With the course closed, due to government distancing restrictions, and exacerbated by the weeks we were closed due to the awful weather conditions, we are now in a difficult situation.

“Within the next four to six weeks our cash balances will be tested. We have managed to secure an overdraft, but the grant would have helped a great deal.”

Graeme Dodds, chairman of the club, added: “It has been difficult, but there is no doubt the club will survive.

“We have an experienced board of directors who have run businesses in the past and some still do, and this board have worked very hard to ensure we can do everything we can at this time.

“For instance we have furloughed most of our staff and looked very carefully at costs.

“There is damage to the balance sheet, but hopefully this will not be permanent and can be repaired in the short to medium term.

“We hope the club will be open again in May and if we continue to receive the tremendous support we have had from our members we will be here for many years to come.”

Other clubs in Scotland have reported similar difficulties in securing grants due to their rateable values.

Meanwhile, Torwoodlee Golf Club in Scotland, which is also celebrating its 125th anniversary this year, has launched an online fundraising page in a bid to stay afloat.

Club chairman Robin Brydon told the Border Telegraph that generous donors gave a total of £7,000 within seven days.

Brydon said: “It’s been amazing and we’re all totally humbled by the donations so far.

“For people who are not going to the golf club at the moment and spending money on teas and coffees and entry fees and who are maybe financially better off as they’re not spending money, we’d be grateful if they could donate a little bit every week to the club.

“It all goes into the pot and it’s just to ensure survival. We’ve obviously got a lot of outgoings with machinery rentals and buggy rentals and bills to play.

“We’ve seen donations from as far away as Australia. We’ve also had money from Aberdeen and from former members in Chepstow.

“Everybody has got to remain positive, but there are so many unknowns at the moment.”

The JustGiving page describes the parkland course as one of the “finest” in Scotland, but goes on to outline the challenges faced by the club, which closed last month.

A statement reads: “Due to the devastating COVID-19 pandemic crisis affecting us all, the club now faces an uncertain future and we therefore need as much money as possible to survive the pandemic and beyond.”

And the operator of Brandhall Golf, Sandwell Leisure Trust, which runs the club on behalf of Sandwell Council, has launched an appeal on its website for donations.

It said: “The Covid-19 pandemic resulted in the government closing all of our leisure facilities to help delay the spread of the virus, this has had a catastrophic impact on the income we collect to run an award-winning service and with no income from our customers there is a significant threat to our financial stability.”

A spokesman for the council said: “We are working closely with all our suppliers, including SLT, to assess what financial support can be provided to them by the council during the crisis and will continue to do this once the crisis is over.

“Our leisure facilities are important and will be vital in helping our local residents to regain their fitness once we start the return to normality.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir April 22, 2020 09:40
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