Coronavirus: One virus being tackled by one industry

These are unprecedented times but in the face of a global pandemic for which no one in the industry could have prepared, golf has united and stood shoulder to shoulder in adversity

We are living through a pandemic for which there is no modern precedent – a microscopic enemy that has, temporarily at least, changed the very way we live our lives.  Covid-19 forced most of us into virtual lockdown, closed our clubs and courses and left the industry staring into an uncertain future. But in the face of all that, the coronavirus also brought a lot of us closer together – even united us.

Golf joined forces from the very start of the crisis, whether that was clubs freely sharing ideas and best practice, or the governing bodies coming to the fore and becoming a central hub for critical advice and guidance as the threat deepened with every passing day.  That willingness to roll up the sleeves, and the shared respect shown between associations, the clubs and the workforce, will see us come through the other side stronger and better equipped to meet the challenges that lie ahead.

As the scale of the pandemic’s presence became fully understood in the UK, the GCMA  joined forces with association colleagues at the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA), the British and International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association (BIGGA) and The R&A to collectively present the case to the Minister of Sport of the need for an acceptance that greenkeeping teams are classified as ‘essential workers’.

This will ensure that through limited course maintenance, when we eventually get to some form of normality, our golf courses will be in a condition that will allow golf to be enjoyed and deliver the much needed physical and mental well-being for participants.

Over the last month, the trio of professional bodies have endlessly produced an array of informative industry documents, which ranged from initially offering advice to the industry on how to deal with the forthcoming virus threat, to delivering a  detailed disaster plan, which included the need for a risk register and how to upskill and retrain staff if necessary.

The deluge of information continued to be developed from the GCMA, BIGGA and PGA with further best practice guidance on what players should do before, during and after they came to the club. Within days, this information became outdated, especially when the Government’s stance became to close all outside gyms (golf courses), which then triggered the next wave of information for clubs.

At the time of writing, the Government’s plans to support business and the understanding of the ramifications of furloughing staff is now the top priority.

“For those of us who have been involved in this industry for a length of time, no one could have prepared for what has been thrown at us, but it is in times of adversity that standing shoulder to shoulder and providing togetherness is what will ensure the industry will come through the other side,” said GCMA chief executive Bob Williams.

“The associations have really come together. Those of us that employ the staff, look after the main product, provide the service and manage and administer our golf clubs have collaborated to deliver the guidance and advice for everyone to benefit from. This is the time for us all to pull in the same direction.”

And while the GCMA were at the forefront of that, clubs up and down the country also joined together to share their own stories, ideas, hints and tips as the crisis really started to take hold.

At Long Ashton, in Bristol, a “genius” idea about providing a doorstep catering service to vulnerable and self-isolated members was soon being implemented at clubs in the South Wales region thanks to a GCMA WhatsApp group that included club manager Gareth Morgan.  “The orders started flying straight away,” he said of the day the service, which allowed members to ring the kitchen directly and order meals, went live.

“Our take doubled on the Thursday and on the Friday it was another 50% on top of that. We maintained the same demand for it on Saturday.

“Martin Stevens, the general manager of Llanishen, who won the GCMA Team of the Year Award last year, was really interested in our home delivery scheme and they made a great start of running one of those.

During the conversation, he told me about ring rounds they were going to be doing of their vulnerable members. We got one good idea from each other.

“I’m on a little Whatsapp group with other South Wales managers and, as a result of me telling that group about the home delivery service, I think three or four South Wales clubs then did the same thing.

“The golf industry really came together and shared.”

Similar stories abound throughout the GCMA’s 16 regions. In Yorkshire, Brough general manager Richard Jagger organised Zoom video meetings with half a dozen of his local clubs to talk things through.

“We were all in the same boat,” he explained. “It was best practice not to get together and meet up and so that was a good way to employ social distancing as well.  It might become a regular thing – maybe not every week but, even after the virus, it may be something we use once a month to share ideas and best practice.”

Jagger added that plenty of practical solutions to problems came out of the new way of non face-to-face working. “We’ve all had slightly different ideas that we have put into place: whether it was what we were doing about handling scorecards or competitions. “A good one that everyone shared was the ability to put something in the hole to stop the ball going right down to the bottom.

“There were a lot of things that were more inward facing as well – how we manage situations with staff and financial situations – and although we are competitors we are all still faced with the same challenges so it helps with our decision making and backs some of the decisions.

“Sometimes you think: is that the right decision? But we are all on the same page and it gives you that bit of back up.”

And looking ahead to the day when the pandemic subsides and a semblance of normality returns, Jagger added the bonds that were being made during this period of seismic change were going to be needed more than ever to rebuild the industry on the back of a challenging winter.

He said: “It can be a lonely place as a golf club manager. The board are looking to you for direction and advice and this is where the true value of a good general manager in clubs will be felt. In this region, the guys I speak to are really professional. We work together and appreciate that we need to pull together to help the industry get through this.

“After the winter we’ve had, and now this, it’s going to be really challenging for us and we need to work together. There are no two ways about it.”

By Marie J. Taylor

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