Updated: May 5
Our lives have changed beyond recognition over the last few months. Never in a million years, could we have ever predicted the rollercoaster of emotions we are all having to manage in our daily lives. Although we all understand the national effort to save lives, it’s only natural that we also think about the future.
Like much of the population, our release from the pressures of everyday life is sport. Whether that’s sitting on the sofa watching your team on Sky Sports, spending your evenings chauffeuring your kids to training or playing a round of golf with friends. Losing all of that so suddenly has been incredibly hard and that’s before we even consider that we work in the sports industry as well!
Yet after weeks of watching endless highlights of yesteryear on tv, and trying to organise some kind of practice in the garden, there is a tiny glimmer of light at the end of the tunnel. There’s no doubt that the UK government is now thinking about what comes next and there’s also no doubt that sport, so important both in a physical and mental sense to the health of our population, is a key element of that debate. And what a difficult debate it is because we are probably all resigned to the fact that social distancing is here to stay for the coming months. So how does social distancing and sport live side by side in harmony?
Rightly or wrongly, professional sport is going to be prioritised. At the end of the day, it’s big business and the economy needs big business to start up their engines again. Hopes of attending a cricket test at Lords or tennis at Wimbledon have been dashed, but with the infrastructure around these professional sports the majority of them can exist in sterile environments for television broadcast purposes, This is of course once testing is at a level that the players and officials themselves can be sure that they are safe and not in danger of infection. Granted, it doesn’t help us experience live sport at first hand, but watching live sport on tv is important and will bring a welcome lift to all sports lovers.
So where does that leave amateur sportsmen and women eager to once more get back to the lifestyles they know and love? Sadly, for many, social distancing is likely to make many sports difficult if not nigh on impossible to operate over the summer months. Cricket for example – how do you socially distance 22 players, umpires, scorers, parents who transport the kids and inevitably want to stay and watch? Can you pass around a ball that’s been rubbed with spit and saliva? Can the umpire or wicket keeper stand up to the stumps within a couple of feet from the batsman? Can the batsmen run past each other or chat in the middle between overs? And there’s sports arguably worse than cricket. How could you tackle someone in rugby or challenge for a header at a corner in football? Realistically are amateur sportsmen going to be able to take a test before a game or self isolate prior to each match? Unfortunately it seems that amateur team sports might have to pause for longer.
In our opinion here lies the opportunity for the game of golf. No one ever wants to take advantage of someone else’s misfortune, but golf really can get ahead of the competition this summer. As mentioned, the government will clearly need to encourage outdoor exercise and pursuits for health benefits as the lockdown measures are carefully lifted one by one, and therefore it seems plausible that golf courses will once more start to re-open, all be it with strict rules on social distancing.
Golf clubs will once more be able to fully justify outstanding subscriptions being paid and for many clubs that will be a much welcome relief. However, there will still be huge black holes of missing income as clubhouses themselves remain shut. No bar or restaurant income, no wedding bookings and no social events means much reduced revenue for golf clubs in a time when at some clubs membership numbers are already dwindling.
There will be many amateur sportsmen and women at a loose end this summer. Men and women keen to stay active, keen to keep their competitive juices flowing and eager to challenge themselves to help ease the loss of being unable to play their own sport. Some of these people may already be casual golfers, but just not yet keen enough for it to be their first choice sport. Others may have tried the game before but never really thought about playing regularly. And of course there’s those that might be completely new to the game who have just never thought it was for them.
All of these represent a real and present opportunity for golf clubs across the UK. But how can clubs engage these sportsmen and women right now? Fortunately we’ve had plenty of time to think about this, having built an online golf networking platform aimed at encouraging golfers, whatever their skill level and demographic, to network more and visit more clubs.
Firstly golf clubs need to be more open and welcoming and club members need to accept it. Open up more tee times to visitors and actively encourage them to come along with friends to try the course. Some clubs have made great strides in recent years to soften the rules on dress codes that have put off many from playing the game. But can more be done? At the end of the day, under social distancing these visitors aren’t going into the clubhouse and are they really going to be offending others hundreds of metres away by wearing shorts and a t shirt?
Think long term rather than short term. Encourage visitors by offering dramatically reduced green fees for a first visit. At the end of the day, a club’s outgoings per visitor is nominal; clubs should not see it as a way to make immediate money but a way of bringing new visitors and members into the club.
Encourage members to interact with visitors. These visitors are potentially their future fellow members. Create a buddy system – a pool of members dedicated to playing rounds with visitors. But this isn’t to be seen as some sort of interview or vetting process. This should be a group of sociable relaxed golfers who enjoy meeting new people. Split the buddy system into abilities so you always have a member who can play with any level of visiting golfer in a relaxed and fun manner.
Encourage members to dedicate old clubs or lend clubs to the golf club, so for those new golfers who don’t have the right kit, there’s no need to rush out and spend money on a sport they are experimenting in. They can just turn up as a visitor and borrow a half set of second hand clubs free of charge.
And then finally, as the crisis slowly recedes, as it will do, golf clubs can return to normal operations and encourage those visitors to become members. Entice them with reduced subscriptions for the first year and importantly scrap exorbitant joining fees. New and young members are the lifeline of any club no matter what the sport. Get members in, offer them a great service and their loyalty will follow for years to come.
So golf clubs really have two options over the coming months. Reopen the courses, carry on as normal, and service their existing members with a ‘we’re alright Jack’ mentality or embrace the opportunity, open the doors and give golf the best chance of becoming the sport of choice for so many across the country. Nobody could ever have envisaged what’s happened over these past few weeks. We can sit around and feel sorry for ourselves or we can turn it into a positive for the sport we love.
This article was written by Milestone Event Management, creators of the new online golf networking platform Linksbook which will launch when COVID-19 restrictions are lifted and when golf courses resume play.
For more information, email Luke Parry at firstname.lastname@example.org.