How do golf clubs respond commercially to coronavirus? – Part 5.

By: April 26, 2020

I am very pleased that more and more golf club leaders are willing to contribute to my article series about how golf clubs are managing the coronavirus crisis around the world.

This time, I will bring you further insights from the United Arab Emirates, Germany, and Spain:

  • DJ Flanders – SVP, Troon International, United Arab Emirates;
  • Korbinian Kofler – MD, Wittelsbacher Golf Club & President, Golf Management Association of Germany (GMVD)
  • Edouard Des Fontaines – Director Of Sales Marketing at La Cala Resort
Are you blind in coronavirus crisis managment in your golf club?

How do you minimize your golf club’s losses due to coronavirus / COVID-19?

DJ Flanders:

The COVID-19 (coronavirus) has impacted all of our properties across the world in a variety of manners. At one stage we only had two courses open in our International division as we adhere to local Governmental and Golf Federation regulations.

Our priorities are always protecting the associates, financial performance, and assets for our owners.

Largely we have been able to ensure our Agronomy teams maintain the golf courses with precautions such as split teams (to ensure we can still do this if one team member gets infected) and re-housing associates on-site (The Track Meydan Golf in Dubai & Prestige Golfshire in India for example).

Our Regional Corporate Agronomy leaders have been assisting our Superintendents with best practices and on maintaining our golf courses in these difficult times when there are limitations on not only staffing but also the delivery of materials.

We were quick to minimize our costs to reduce the impact on our P&Ls while attempting to do our best to protect our associates who do a phenomenal job day in day out.

As a Corporate Office, we have been over communicating to our property leaders with guidance, global trends, motivation, and proven best practices while engaging with them on a personal level to help guide them through the crisis.

This situation is new to the world and there is no magic wand however by doing the right thing and being kind, we are highly confident our properties will come out of this unscathed.

We currently operate in 34 different countries and to take a positive from this crisis, we have been able to follow the migration of COVID-19 (coronavirus) and continuously work with our property leaders and teams in lessons learned best practices and relaunch strategies.

Do not fall apart during coronavirus crisis
Korbinian Kofler:

Since the shutdown of our golf course by Mid-March, we started immediately to cut costs in several sections. As we are running our own restaurant (as well as the pro shop), we started reducing overtime by some and put most of the crew on short-time work in order to lower provisions for overtime respectively personnel costs.

Furthermore, all of the administration and housekeeping/maintenance staff was sent home on short-time work as well. All season workers, normally starting by April have been postponed to the time of a reopening, risking that they will go for another job in the meantime.

Luckily, nearly all of them committed themselves to us and will come back. Only the F&B Manager and the Head of Secretary stayed in order to provide service to our members, partners, and all other incoming calls/mails.

All orders have been stopped or canceled, if possible. We started running our clubhouse and our guest house on the lowest energy level as necessary.

Altogether, we reduced personnel and energy costs to a minimum, whereas we kept on going without any reduction with our greenkeeping team, to complete all pre-season and season-starting projects, such as airifying greens and tee boxes, renovating car path, drainage works in wet areas, graden&backfill and overseeding the greens as well as bunker renovations.

Since there were no golfers we invested even more in the course by

  • changing the whole irrigation system,
  • building some new bunkers and
  • closing some useless ones.

In the clubhouse, we could finish even more renovating works.

The highest investment – the complete renovation of our bathrooms and the entire water- and heating-system in our guest house has been completely fulfilled.

Altogether we have been investing over 500.000 Euros so far. As we have a mandatory credit of 300 Euros per member for the restaurant, we are positioned quite well.

Due to our high level of communication and tech creation of understanding for the situation our members were not addressing claims for recourse. We are really thankful for their commitment.

cash mashine from close during coronavirus
Edouard Des Fontaines:

First of all, we need to avoid having to refund clients and do our best to re-organize their visit for a date in the future.

Because we are already losing all the revenue from the lost green fees, we need to make sure that we have some kind of insurance net that our clients will return to us in the future.

Whilst, like many other companies, the majority of our operations staff is on the furlough scheme, we are using this time to upskill our workforce through free webinars and online coaching, as well as getting them to interact with our clients on our social media channels.

Lastly, whilst we know the next 3-4 months will be very difficult, we are making sure we are making it easy for our clients and partners to confirm bookings for the Autumn, but mostly for 2021,  so we have already released our rates until October 2021.

chasing our goals coronavirus crisis

Have you got a recovery plan for the post-coronavirus era?

DJ Flanders:

Yes, even during the pandemic the wheels were in motion to make sure we are prepared for the now but also for tomorrow. Part of the now was the creation and global launch of our Moments Matter efforts.

This content-led resource for our clubs, associates, members, and guests was a key tool we launched and on that helped to educate, inspire, and entertain along the way.  

We have also shared many other resources internally to our property leaders including Relaunch Strategies and Crisis Revenue Management. Our technology partner is advancing our Troon International App to provide digital check-in also.

We are certainly working hard on Corporate led initiatives to assist our properties past the COVID-19 (coronavirus) epidemic while working with each club in their relaunch strategy.

Again, best practices coming from our leaders around the globe and knowledge from the 500+ golf courses we manage are a key tool for each of our clubs to implement at their local level.

DJ-Flanders-Troon International coronavirus
Korbinian Kofler:

On the one hand, we will have to put a great effort into welcoming and therefore retaining our current members as well as increase marketing for new golfers, greenfee players, and hotel guests to hopefully reach or even surpass our monthly budgets.  

I have always believed, and I do even more that high-quality golf clubs with great services and a high level of warmth for their customers will overcome crisis way better than the ones, which are already struggling.

That is why we have been investing heavily and kept up all the necessary services during the closing. Communication is also a great key to success to keep in touch with your members and keep them informed.    

Korbinian Kofler coronavirus final

Due to the shut down at the very beginning of the season, we are mainly losing the chance of gaining new members for 2020 because they feel not being able to play all season.

Therefore, we have to either lower the fee for the rest of the season or – better – create added value to not lower rates.

Furthermore, we have to increase marketing (if possible) to address non-golfers to get them to try golf and eventually develop them into proud members.

We will also keep up our golf program with schools nearby, which we wanted to in April (we already had 50 registrations) and will now restart in September, if possible.

All in all, it looks like that we will be able to open the course by May, the restaurant unfortunately only by Mid-June.

We will keep personnel low as long as possible (even if we might have a first run on the course).

With the German Golf Association and the other Golf Associations (Golf Management Association, PGA of Germany, Greenkeepers, and Golf Course Owners Association) we have already developed guidelines for reduced modus of play during the COVID-19 (coronavirus) crisis.

Depending on these guidances, we have ordered all necessary equipment such as masks, perspex panels, e.g. and installed all mandatory administration processes, such as online booking for twosomes only, touchless payment methods, etc.

LA-CALA-Sean-Corte-Real-and-Edouard-Des-Fontaines coronavirus
Edouard Des Fontaines:

As mentioned above, our first priority was to release our 2021 rates, so that we can at least secure future business and look forward to booking more clients earlier.

This will help improve the confidence of our Tour Operators and partners, but also internally make us go into the next financial year with already a good base to work with.

It´s not that we have forgotten about 2020, on the contrary, but it is not going to be great reading.

And now we are planning for different scenarios because we don’t know when and how we will be able to re-open, our first priority being the safety of our clients of course and communicating the new measures very clearly.

So, we are planning for the short, medium and long terms, with strategies that will be effective in the short term, but also intended to last indefinitely if they are well received and financially successful.

Now is the time to improve and act on ideas and concepts that have been in place for a while but that the golf sector was still reluctant to implement.

There are a lot of technologies out there to take advantage of, which will improve client experience pre, during, and post-travel.