Operators Reveal How Pandemic is Impacting Public Golf

Orlando, Florida, United States: While golf courses across America deal with unprecedented disruption of their day-to-day business due to state and city mandates brought on by the Coronavirus pandemic, GOLFNOW is shedding some light on their most-pressing challenges by revealing results from golf course operator surveys taken in March and April.

With the most recent survey concluding on April 15, a total of nearly 1,300 responses were divided among the two questionnaires.

The most definitive data point in the research – whether the reporting facilities had closed for play – increased from a 42 per cent to 62 per cent, in just the couple of weeks between surveys.

For many of those remaining open, manpower had been reduced by lay-offs and furloughs. In the March GOLFNOW survey, 24 per cent of respondents reported having laid off at least half their workers. In the April follow-up, that percentage had increased to 39 per cent. Another 12 per cent responding to the April survey said they had furloughed or laid off between one-quarter and one-half of their workforce.

Changes to payment practices are under consideration at many courses, with some operators describing online pre-payment as a necessity for doing business. Short-staffing has been commonplace and the need to maintain safety precautions is vital, two factors that favour the ‘park-and-play’ approach and discourage in-shop payment.

A pair of questions in the April survey revealed that among respondents who remain open for business, 52 per cent were not accepting cash. The second question asked generally about forms of payment and provided multiple response options. A combined 17 per cent said they had either ‘changed to online payments only’ or ‘changed to credit card by phone only’. Six out of 10 said they were still at the golf shop counter, collecting payments and checking golfers in.

Mild winter weather in large parts of the US, combined with the lack of other entertainment options, increased early-Spring golf activity in some places. The March survey revealed 24 per cent said that rounds played had increased over the same period in 2019. In the April survey, 15 per cent said rounds were even or increased.

When asked in the April survey how long their course could go without green fee revenue during golf season before their business ‘suffers irreparable damage’, 27 per cent said less than one month, 50 per cent said from one to three months and the remaining 22 per cent said they could go three months or longer.

On that basis, interest in Government relief was evident. Almost two-thirds, 63 per cent, said they had visited the SBA.gov website in search of information about CARES Act programmes to assist small businesses in distress as a result of Covid-19 disruptions.

Projections and speculation about the country’s transition from the Covid-19 crisis to a gradually more open economy have mentioned golf as an activity more easily restarted than many others. That may be a partial reason for the fairly optimistic outlook that emerges from the April study, which concludes with the question: ‘What do you expect business levels to be like following the Covid-19 outbreak?’

One in three, exactly 33 per cent, said business would be ‘about normal’. A spirited eight per cent said ‘much better’ than before and 22 per cent said ‘slightly better’ than before. Meanwhile, 29 per cent felt it would be ‘slightly worse’ than before the crisis and nine per cent said ‘much worse’.

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