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  • Alistair Tait

Save golf has to be the new mantra, not grow the game

Grow the game has been the mantra in golf for a long time. The coronavirus pandemic has changed that.

The key now is to save the game, to try to hang on to what we have. It’s not going to be easy because of this pandemic.

Golf Business News cites a GGA Partners report that found eight percent of golf clubs in the United Kingdom and Ireland are currently in a critical cash-flow condition. A further 29% are concerned. GGA surveyed 1,800 golf clubs to come up with its results.

“It is impossible to anticipate every challenge clubs will face in the months ahead, but we can say with certainty that long-term financial stability is an issue confronting every club leader,” EMEA managing partner Rob Hill said.
“The survey results highlight that now more than ever it is imperative that club leaders have access to the critical information which impacts their business, and plan diligently to secure their financial future. In the midst of a crisis, prudent financial stewards should embark on a phased approach to financial planning and analysis focussing on cash preservation, sustainability, and opportunity”.

RTE identified three golf clubs that have already closed in Ireland during this pandemic, with a further 50 reported to be on the brink. Golf resumes in Ireland on May 18th, but only for members who live within five kilometres of their club. That stipulation has caused consternation in the Irish Republic. Half of Irish golf club members live more than 5km away from their clubs, more in rural regions.

The unfortunate 50% will have to wait until June to return to the game. Phase two of the return to golf in Ireland states that anyone within 20 kilometres of their club will be able to play.

The classic Carne Golf Links on Ireland’s west coast is one of those clubs currently endangered by this crisis. It attracts many visitors on annual basis, and has very few local members within five kilometres. Carne chairman Gerry Maguire told RTE’s Greg Allen:

“This year was going to be our bonanza year. Our numbers were going to be 25% up on last year. We were doubling our numbers on three years ago. So all the hard work has gone out the door.
“We’ll start again and we’ll get it going because this is precious ground out here, it’s a precious golf course.”

Classic Scottish golf clubs are struggling during this pandemic, too. As The Courier reported, Blairgowrie Golf Club ruled it could not refund subscriptions to members complaining about being unable to play during this pandemic. To do so would be to put the club’s very existence in doubt. Club captain Peter Inglis told The Courier:

“Quite simply, refunding this year’s fees could lead to the closure of Blairgowrie Golf Club.”

Like Ireland, Scotland is said to have approximately 50 golf clubs staring into the abyss. Scottish golf is already under pressure with the threat of closure to well established municipal courses as cash-starved local councils look to save money. That situation is probably going to get worse. Said councils will probably need to spend every available penny going forward on services more important than golf

While golf returned to England two days ago, many clubs are in peril because of this pandemic. Cavendish Golf Club in Buxton, a fantastic Dr Alister MacKenzie designed course in beautiful countryside, has launched a crowdfunding page to try to raise £25,000 to save the club.

At the time of writing, Cavendish was close to its crowdfunding goal, raising £22,626 of the £25,000. That's welcome news. The thought of this classic course going under is too hard to bear. Ditto for all courses across the UK and Ireland.

Saving golf right now is far more important than any thoughts of growing the game.

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