https://www.thetimes.co.uk/article/golf-clubs-fear-worst-in-brutal-situation-of-lockdown-gg5zbkchqGolf clubs fear worst in ‘brutal situation’ of lockdownGraham SpiersSaturday April 25 2020
The crisis looming for Scottish golf clubs is already rearing its ugly head: courses shut, no money coming in, cashflow in abeyance.
With clubs already going out of business across the country, the Covid-19 crisis might only hasten the end for others.
Asked yesterday if he envisaged fatalities, in terms of club closures, David Roy, general manager of the Crail Golfing Society, said: “It will be hugely surprising to me if there aren’t.”
Roy knows he is in quite a privileged position. Golf at Crail has thrived, in a gorgeous Fife setting, with 1,800 members and cash reserves. This well-run club has been able to adjust to the pandemic, but others will not be so fortunate.
“This is a living nightmare for golf clubs less fortunate than ourselves,” Roy said. “Many of them don’t have cash reserves, they were already limping along, just trying to balance their books. And now this [the pandemic] happens, with no-one coming to play their course. These clubs have had the rug pulled from under them and there is no safety net.
“These clubs might have 300 members, a secretary, some greenkeeping staff to pay, maybe some bar staff. But there’s no money: no-one is playing golf or eating in their clubhouse. And if you want to use the government’s furlough scheme, you have to keep paying your staff to get your money back. So you need to have the cash now. It is a brutal situation.”
All across Scotland golf clubs have feared their end. Malcolm Murray, the pro at Brora, openly wondered on Twitter if his club would survive, and has aided Brora’s social-media drive to boost funds. Peebles is already projecting a £50,000-plus loss on visitor income. At Durness, on the very north shelf of the country, they have launched a public appeal. “We are not begging for money but a few new members would certainly help us,” Alistair Morrison, their greenkeeper, said.
Other clubs, like Craigielaw in east Lothian, are desperate to attract new members, and hoping that existing members renew their subs, at a very time when they can offer no golf.
Nor is it just your average club which is suffering. The so-called richer “resort courses” also face a horrendous situation. Courses like Castle Stuart and Kingsbarns, rightly lauded for their beauty, are heavily reliant on visitor income, but hundreds of thousands of pounds this spring and summer will simply disappear. Dumbarnie Links, a fabulous new resort above Lower Largo, could not have chosen a more disastrous time to open next month.
One figure in the Scottish golf industry told me yesterday: “People tend to think of places like Castle Stuart as upmarket and well-heeled and almost immune from the situation. But I’d say, far from it. These resort courses could be facing a hell of a problem with this pandemic. They need the — mainly American — visitor market.”
Nairn, also renowned for its quality and beauty, has just spent a vast sum on course redevelopment over the past 18 months: would the club have done so had they known the pandemic was looming? Even Royal Dornoch, a world-famous attraction, is having to think carefully about its proposed new £5 million clubhouse.
For any golf visitor to the north of Scotland, the Dornoch-Golspie-Brora necklace is an unmissable delight. But Golspie, too, is facing its challenges. The club gathers £55,000 per year in membership fees but, more critically, around £100,000 a year in visitor income. Much of the latter, in the coming months, will be lost.
“It’s very tough,” Alasdair MacDougall, the volunteer treasurer at Golspie, said. “What we are looking at is a whole summer, and now maybe a whole season, of lost visitor income. Psychologically, I think many golf clubs are sort of writing off this year.
“In the main our members have been very supportive, very decent about it. I think we will be OK. I hope, we will survive. We had £100,000 in the bank at the start of the year, and we did hope that sum might help us through the next 20 years. But that is now unlikely.”
With the vague hope that golfers might be able to get out playing again by mid-summer — but with social-distancing rules still applying — Roy envisages a further, dire dilemma for clubs.
“You could have certain rules maybe being relaxed, where golfers can return to the course,” he said. “But it will probably be: no pro shop open, no clubhouse open, no touching of flagpoles etc, so that will almost certainly mean no visitors. This could be a long haul for many clubs, and very damaging. I fear for some of my fellow clubs.”