Golf club managers are dismayed over new course closures

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 4, 2020 14:42

Several golf club managers, directors and professionals, and an MP, have expressed strong disagreement over the closure of courses in England from November 5 to December 2.

Many believe the new coronavirus restrictions will hurt their businesses and are unnecessary due to how safe golf is perceived to be.

Alan Hardy, owner of Nottinghamshire Golf Club, said his facility has lost more than £1.5 million in turnover this year due to the pandemic.

The Nottinghamshire’s greenkeepers will remain working during the lockdown and a skeleton management team will also be left in position. However, most of the food and beverage, hotel and retail teams have been furloughed for the month.

He said: “Ordinarily golf counts for 30 percent of our revenue so the stopping of weddings and now food and beverage in the clubhouse has had a massive impact on our top line and obviously through to our bottom line.

“We estimate that Covid-19 will cost us in excess of £1.5m in lost sales this year alone.”

Thierry Delsol, chief executive of The Club Company, the UK’s biggest golf operator, which owns 15 golf clubs, said: “We recognise the challenging decisions the prime minister has to make to protect the health of the nation. However, there’s no valid reason why people should not be allowed to play golf outdoors while meeting social distancing rules.

Thierry Delsol

“We have seen a surge in new people, of all ages and backgrounds, playing golf since we reopened in May. Closing golf courses would deny them access to a safe outdoor activity that is vital for mental and physical health at a time when they need it most. I urge the government to reconsider.”

He added that The Club Company has received significant support from local MPs to keep golf courses open during the next wave of restrictions.

‘When golf was reintroduced after the first lockdown, all golf clubs in the country operated on a maximum of two golfers per tee time. Similar rules would satisfy the government’s current recommendations,’ said a spokesman. ‘As an outdoor activity, which can be played while meeting social distancing rules, golf should stay open to help people’s physical and mental wellbeing. Recent research from the R&A shows that playing golf can help prevent major chronic diseases, including diabetes, heart attacks and stroke. It can also reduce the risk of anxiety, depression and dementia, improving people’s wellness and self-esteem.’

Jenny Holmes, director of Fynn Valley Golf Club in Suffolk said: “I can’t see why would you want to shut down golf courses. Clubhouses, yes of course. But I can’t think of a better way for two people to social distance and get exercise, than play golf.

“Some of our senior players rely on a game, not just to play, but to socially interact. They will now spend the next month just sitting at home again. For some people’s mental health, golf has been a saviour.

“We will lose money because our clubhouse will be closed, but I think the mental health picture for people is far bigger.

“Playing golf has huge health benefits.

“I can easily set up my tee-time sheet to just include two-balls only. I’d rather have a full sheet of people playing two-balls than a full sheet of nothing.”

Sam Greenhalgh, manager of Regent Park Golf Club in Bolton said he believed closing golf courses was a bad idea.

“I don’t think it’s a good idea considering the low level of risk you get with golf,” he said.

“You don’t need to even enter the building, you can have a warden on the tee checking things, it all has to be booked in advance with numbers limited and it’s more than easy to social distance on the course.

“It’s a great way for people to exercise and you can limit the mixing of people.

“It seems very feasible to keep golf going and to give people the opportunity to keep on exercising.

“It now leaves the problem for us that we can’t really furlough staff as we need people to always be maintaining the course and during the first lockdown people did silly things on golf courses.

“People rode bikes on our greens and did other exercise on them, and in bunkers, which left us needing to do more maintenance.

“The course was basically getting abused by some people because it was empty, they don’t appreciate how hard they are to maintain.

“We also need to keep green staff on to maintain the course who we can’t furlough, so will have little income coming in with the course closed but wages to pay.

“All this despite the fact that we can and have been operating safely.”

Grange Park Golf Club in St Helens’ secretary John Jackson added: “Golf is no doubt one of the most Covid-safe sports to play.”

He said that for many members, it plays a large role in helping their mental wellbeing, and is an opportunity for socialising in a safe way for some who live alone.

“This was devastating news for the club, our members and golf as a whole.

“Golf is essentially a socially distanced four-hour walk and is no doubt one of the most Covid-safe sports to play.

“Since we reopened the course back in May, we haven’t had one case of Covid as a direct result of visiting the golf club.

“We have over 600 members at Grange Park and, for many, golf is their only form of exercise. Not only does golf help to improve their physical health but it also plays a major role in helping their mental wellbeing.

“For some of our older members, who sadly now live on their own, the golf course provides an opportunity to socialise with friends socially distanced.”

Shipley Golf Club in Bradford’s professional Nathan Stead said he was frustrated at the lockdown rules.

He said: “When we reopened after the first lockdown we had a big influx of new members so the club is now full, and this now might mean a lot of members might be asking for refunds for the time they will miss.

“Personally I’ve had to cancel all my lessons, and ahead of Christmas the retail side is going to take a hit too with the business the pro shop would be doing all moving to online retailers who can deliver.

“England Golf and the PGA have worked with the government to make golf safe to play. We have tools to retrieve your ball from the hole so you don’t have to touch anywhere near the cup, and bunkers are raked with your club or foot.

“In the clubhouse we have a one-way system and social distancing in place. We even tried to diversify to take smaller bookings to operate like a restaurant, rather than the larger functions we usually have. At this time of the year we would usually be fully booked with events.

“The general view is that golf is very Covid safe. Obviously we wouldn’t want to do anything that would influence the infection rate but the with structure of online tee time booking so there are no crowds on the first tee, no more than two or three-balls as it was in the first lockdown and the open space on the course; I can’t say there is any sport safer than golf to play.

“So, I don’t quite understand it, but then not every club is the same and not everyone has been able to get these systems in place.

“Through the summer we had a couple of Covid-compliant charity golf days for Prostate Cancer UK and inspectors came to check and were very happy with what we did.

“So, it’s very frustrating after we’ve been doing everything we can to get people out in the fresh air, exercising and playing golf.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf conceded that there is no more that can be done to persuade the government to alter its position to allow golf to continue during the upcoming lockdown.

The group’s chair, North Warwickshire MP Craig Tracey, said: “I am grateful to the industry bodies involved in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf who have been as united in their pragmatic approach to this second lockdown as they were the first.  Unfortunately, unlike the lockdown earlier this year, the government has decided to take a different approach despite golf having demonstrated it can meet the necessary requirements of the upcoming lockdown to continue to be participated in safely.

“By playing in pairs, closing clubhouses and maintaining the socially distancing rule changes already implemented, the sport could continue to be enjoyed by three million participants across the country. When you look at the facts, it actual poses less risk than, say, walking with a friend, which is something people will be allowed to do, in closer proximity without the oversight that golf clubs provide.

“Obviously the government has difficult decisions to make at this time but when you consider significant mental and physical health benefits of golf, and that it is a sport that is enjoyed by such a wide range of people,  we are naturally disappointed they have taken the position that it has.  There is still time for this to change and we remain available to all ministers and officials to explain how golf can be played under the upcoming bill or to answer any questions they may have.

“I would also like to thank the golfers who signed the petition that will now be debated in parliament, and those who contacted their MP making clear the case for golf. Colleagues from across the political spectrum spoke to me about the volume of correspondence they received; it was a quite a monumental movement of people in a very short space of time, and it provided MPs, myself included, with necessary groundswell of support to make the case we did.

“As was made clear in our letter to the prime minister, the golf industry is convinced that golf can be played safely in these times.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir November 4, 2020 14:42
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  1. djm November 12, 11:25

    Anybody who still believes this is about public health needs to wake up & smell the covfefe. The danger posed to the general public by the Chyynese Virus is & always has been vanishingly small…….this is all about control of the public, who are being set up for further restrictions on personal freedoms next year

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  2. Manny November 12, 09:26

    An absolutely crazy decision by the Government to close the golf courses during lockdown 2.0 for all the reasons already mentioned. Your article sums up exactly why golf courses should have been allowed to remain open. They should be allowed two balls, with all the social distancing measures that courses have put into place last time. It’s not like we are going into the unknown (like in May) – golf courses in general dealt with things brilliantly at that time. What I’d like to know is if there are ANY UK golf clubs that actually AGREE with the decision to close this time round?

    Reply to this comment
  3. JNickson November 7, 10:59

    We urge the government to reconsider on golf. If you can meet one person from another household socially distanced outdoors, why can you not do the same with a two ball on the golf course? Since May, golfers and golf clubs all around the country have been adapting to play safely. The industry can only take so much before we see more golf clubs going out of business. Bring golf back please.

    Reply to this comment
  4. ErnieLong November 5, 03:13

    If the government are stopping me from playing golf they can refund my membership for this month. Thats around £130, if you times that by all the golf members that would be a substantial amount.

    Reply to this comment
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