How to protect our golf club business during the coronavirus crisis?

By: Keith Haslam, MD, Braemar Golf April 14, 2020

Last week I asked two questions from Keith Haslam the managing director of Braemar Golf:

  • How do you minimize your golf club’s losses due to coronavirus/COVID-19?
  • Have you got a recovery plan/idea for the post-COVID-19 era?

He took these questions real seriously. See below what he recommends about how we can save our golf club businesses.

The Covid19 outbreak has meant a huge upheaval for everyone across the globe. There is not one person this will not have impacted.

Our thoughts go out to all the front-line key workers who are doing such an amazing job at this time, as well as those who unfortunately will lose loved ones from this.

The impact, of course, is also huge on businesses and golf clubs and courses are part of this.

I am sure my thoughts will mirror the valuable contributions from your other contributors so far, and hopefully, clubs are already proactively implementing measures.

Specifically, for the UK, I would be looking at the following type of actions.

Get the view golf club

Minimize losses / maximize cashflow

  • With the current directive, if you cannot have your staff working (i.e. on activities you can legitimately and safely keep open), then ensure they are correctly ‘furloughed’ so that you can retain them for the future and the government will support them with 80% of their wages (up to a certain level). This means they cannot work for you whilst in furlough.
  • Look into all options of help that the government is making available i.e. no business rates, grants for companies in the leisure sector (£25k – although restrictions based on rateable value) and take advantage of offers from banks, etc i.e. payment holidayscashflow could be key to getting through all this – but understanding debts still have to be paid in the future and plan this in your medium to long term financial reforecasting.
  • Have open and fair conversations with any franchisees/suppliers to agree on terms during this period – that will hopefully allow all parties to come through this.
  • Have the same discussions with banks/lenders etc – protect cashflow but also be careful of causing a problem further down the line.
  • Cashflow is going to be key!!

Retain / Protect Revenues

  • Different business models will have different challenges and will impact the approach needed – but for a lot of clubs in the UK, retaining members and subscriptions will be vital.
  • This time of year may well be annual renewal time as well and although many will pay by direct debit – a decision to renew (or continue paying) at this time will be significant for both parties.
  • Personally, I would be stepping up direct/personal communication with all my members to renew or maintain their direct debit payments. Now is the time for members to stick together and safeguard the community that the club provides.
  • This may require some form of ‘compensation’ (or better to think of adding extra value) to members at a later date due to the closure – this needs careful thought to ensure the club does not push the issues further down the road.
  • Communicate/engage with your members to ask them. 59Club is offering Covid19 survey templates for a free period that you can use, or products like Players 1st could allow you to communicate and get feedback more easily. If your course has an app – a great way to stay in touch.
  • Contact all existing bookings from your tee sheet – here in the UK golf clubs are closed, so you can offer to postpone the event/booking to a later date (hopefully you will get their support and minimize requests for refunds).
golf club gives a hand
A fair approach to members and bookings will hopefully see them have a fair approach back?

Examples of clubs like Brora in Scotland has produced results.

They have moved quickly and communicated with members and reached out to their audience and it has produced results – they have offered some:

  • lifetime memberships,
  • online merchandise,
  • online vouchers, etc and it has produced some results.

Not everyone will be able to do this – but it is worth considering what would be applicable to your club.

Communication and a fair approach are key – there is nothing worse than waiting for a company to set out its approach and you having to complain or call to find out.

Clubs management should review the situation and potential impact on the business set out their strategies and communicate professionally and quickly to their members, existing bookings, database and the wider communityshow leadership.

Demonstrate positively that your club is a key part of the community you know who your older and more vulnerable members/guests are – contact them and make sure they are ok in these difficult times and offer to help if needed i.e. with food supplies etc.

Other members can help also – show the club cares and is a vital part of the community.

Engagement with your community is key – now more than ever people will be turning to social media and this is a good time to appropriately engage with your potential audience.

golf club change

Coming Out the Other Side

Hopefully, a few of the measures above will have worked and made this period a little easier and clubs come out the other side ok – but it will be very tough for many clubs I believe.

As there may be a relaxing of restrictions first, long before we fully get back to normal, clubs should start putting in place plans to ensure they can comply during this period.

Clubs in certain parts of the world are still open with restrictions and other countries (such as Denmark) are just opening up again.

Learn from what measures are being taken so that if and when restrictions are relaxed, you could ensure you are prepared and can move quickly – it will not just return to normal immediately and some things maybe not at all.

Do not be complacent as things ease – who knows if there will be spikes afterward – do what you can to ensure everyone remains safe.

Now is a good opportunity to plan your strategies and campaigns for when restrictions start to be loosened. Rebooking all those who have hopefully stuck with you for green fees, events, etc (think about some added value to say thank you for their loyalty).

Ensure you are ready for people wanting to play golf again – people will be keen to play and they will go to clubs who make it a good experience to book and play.

So, have your tee sheets ready to book online, simply and easily. Ensure you have people in place to handle calls, rescheduling of events (although you will hopefully have been doing that), new enquires, etc.

Think about doing something for the key workers during this crisis. This could be a good gesture and can show a golf club wants to be part of the community.

These are simple measures that other contributors will have touched on also.

Stay Safe.

About the Author: Keith Haslam is the managing director of Braemar Golf, a golf services company offering advisory, management and construction management services to owners and developers of golf properties.

Based in St Andrews, the Home of Golf and currently working in Europe, Middle East and North Africa.