‘Golf courses are so busy they might have to close for maintenance’

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 27, 2020 11:01

The owner of a London golf club has detected two consequences of the resumption of golf in the UK: some golf venues might have to close for several days for maintenance because they are so busy, and the price of golf balls in some areas is soaring.

With only a limited number of greenkeepers working on most venues for two months, followed by, now, several days of huge footfall, Neil Sjoberg, owner of Epping Golf Course, has said we can see a return to the 1960s and 1970s, when busy venues would close for a couple of weeks so that greenkeepers could carry out essential maintenance.

He also said that a surprising development has been a sharp increase in golf ball sales – not just because more people are playing the game, but also because the rough is so long that balls are being lost, the pace of play is so fast that golfers do not want to spend much time looking for them and because people do not want to pick up balls that might not be theirs due to Covid-19 risks.

A very busy Royal Troon (pre lockdown)

Having spoken with several managers of golf clubs in and around East Anglia, Neil said: “All the venues have reported a surge in membership – mostly at least 50 new members. One of the reasons for the membership rush is that most clubs charge pro rata fees and, as we are well into the season, new members get what they crave: summer months-only membership at a reduced price. The test will be to see if they renew next year.

“Although all the golf clubs tend to be in a better than average condition because of the lack of use – no divots, no pitch marks and the tees are unworn – the reduced greenstaff has made daily maintenance since opening a difficult task.

“The greatly increased traffic has meant that many are finding tee areas quickly worn and are having to introduce tee mats which are normally only used in muddy, winter conditions.

“Some clubs are not allowing golf until 9am now, to give greenkeepers time to prepare the course.

“I can see a recurrence of the 1960s and 1970s when courses closed for a couple of weeks to give them a rest and greenkeepers were given a chance to divot and water tees. I can remember Chingford GC recording 86,000 rounds of golf in one year – some old courses had 110,000 rounds! Queues were so great at Hainault GC (‘the busiest course in Europe’) that players had to sleep in their cars to claim the first slots at dawn for their fourball!”

Neil’s comments come as data analyst Samuel Robinson, the CRM manager at golf course operator Mytime Active, has explored online searches for golf in the hours and days that followed the announcement that golf courses in England could reopen.

“On the day that Boris Johnson made this announcement, searches for England Golf featured eighth on the list of breakout search terms with over 100,000 searches on Google Trends,” he wrote.

“From the day that the rules around play were clarified, searches for the terms containing ‘golf near me’ grew by a whopping 186 per cent. This is likely to be driven mostly by new and beginner golfers.

“To try and add to this I thought I’d explore product related terms and year-on-year growth in searches for golfing essentials such as golf balls grew by nine per cent and searches for golf clubs by 13 per cent.”

Elsewhere, Neil reports other talking points from his discussions. Some clubs have used volunteers both as marshals and to maintain bunkers, but now they are having to decide whether to carry on using them or bring back furloughed staff.

He also said that golf ball sales are up – particularly as rough has grown and there is new pressure to play the rounds quickly.

“Some of the rough on courses has grown, making finding balls difficult while there is great pressure to keep moving. Also, people are reluctant to pick up ‘found’ golf balls for fear of infection. This means used golf balls selling for more than their new price because of high demand!”

Neil stated that proprietary golf clubs are particularly busy at the moment.

“Every club is reporting full booking sheets. Many members ‘ clubs are limiting their members to three rounds per week and no visitors at the moment,” he said.

“Proprietary clubs, which tend to be opening earlier and closing later, are also fully booked with visitors who would normally play at the private members’ clubs. These new visitors are mostly young men of a good playing standard. Golfers are trying courses they would not normally play and enjoying the experience. Many report being pleasantly surprised at the quality of the proprietary courses they’ve been playing at.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir May 27, 2020 11:01
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