Golf clubs and courses across Gloucestershire are set to be relieved of the financial pressures of COVID-19 as they are set to reopen on March 29.
Courses have been closed to their members since Tuesday 5 January after prime minister Boris Johnson announced a third UK national lockdown as coronavirus cases began to rise once again.
Over the last year within the global pandemic, UK clubs will have been closed for a total of just over 160 days. John Lannon is the club manager at Lilley Brook Golf Club in Cheltenham and has stressed the trouble that they have faced over the last 12 months, saying:
“It has been difficult as most membership clubs have members pay a yearly subscription so some people asked if they could get any refund because we haven’t been able to play golf for three months. Most membership clubs locally haven’t been able to do it and as a members club, all the members become part owners so they have to unfortunately take a little bit of the pain of not being able to play and still have to pay.
“It is difficult because we have a budget we have to stick to and part of that budget is reliant upon green fees and society days as well as bar income and we have been quite significantly hit by that.
“A lot of golfers have missed four to five months of golf in their subscription year. The third lockdown was difficult for a number of reasons. The finances have taken a hit but thankfully our members have been amazing and have continued to support the club the best they can,” said Lannon.
Throughout the pandemic there have been demands from golfers across England asking for the sport to be able to continue given the open and distant nature of the sport. To add further frustration, Scotland allowed courses to remain open throughout the third lockdown but with a limit on two ball rounds. Lannon believes there could have been benefits to remaining open but overall it could have caused further complications:
“What is the difference between somebody walking with one friend in a park, which have been really busy, and two people meeting on a golf course and keeping socially distanced and playing a round with their friends.
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“For their mental and physical health, it would have been really good but the government responded for it to be debated in parliament and said the trouble is if they let golf go, where does it end. The figures bare out the benefit of the strict lockdown as much as it is frustrating to a number of golfers and clubs who could have continued to allow players onto the course, they did what they did and you have to be pragmatic and get on with it.”
The lack of green fees and inflow of funds to the club have taken a hit for all clubs around Gloucestershire but Lilley Brook looked to ensure that their staff remained a priority in times of trouble.
“We saw a downturn of 10-15% of our income last year but having said that, the furlough scheme has been great for our employees. It allowed us to continue to employ them instead of lay them off which would have been a real possibility and the club took the view to pay the extra 20% so our staff wouldn’t be disadvantaged in any way. We are fortune we were able to carry on where other courses haven’t been in the same position,” said Lannon.
However, according to GolfNow, there was an increase of 97% in bookings in September 2020 in comparison to September 2019 with the number of golfers booking a round rising by more than 100%. This has given Lannon and Lilley Brook hope that clubs will be able to get back on their feet come March 29.
“When we came out of the first lockdown, we were so busy with new members. We took on 100 new members between May 13th and June 30th and we are now full for the first time in 15 years and have a waiting list for the first time in 15 years as well.
“In some ways the initial financial implications were severe and very worrying but because Golf was one of the few sports that people could do, we saw a significant increase in younger members which has been great because we want to try and dispel the myth that golf is for old retired people.”