Can you run a golf event with social distancing?
It’s amazing how long a week is in this fast developing world that we live in. It seems to be clearer by the day that we are inevitably going to have to co-exist with COVID-19 for quite a few more months to come. Last week we debated how golf could take advantage of being one of the first sports to return post lockdown, and it does seem increasingly likely that golf’s comeback is now not too far off. In fact, it may be just days away.
But there is a big difference between the fairways reopening for one or two balls compared to the normal practice of sitting in the clubhouse with a coffee and bacon roll, having a chat with your buddies on the practice green, and then heading out as a fourball before returning to enjoy a well earned drink in the bar afterwards. So what does that mean for us as golf event organisers?
Like all events businesses, our calendar changed overnight once the scale of the current crisis became apparent. We still have a number of events in the calendar for 2020 but they are now firmly weighted to the autumn with the hope and expectation that current restrictions are relaxed to allow such gatherings by then.
With Linksbook, our new online golf networking platform, the plan was to launch with an opening event at Sherwood Forest last week. Sadly that wasn’t possible but we have now decided that the platform itself will launch as soon as our golf courses reopen, all be it with an amended set of competition rules for the inaugural season, taking into effect social distancing rules. But what of our launch event at Sherwood Forest? Well, we still very much hope to hold that and several other networking events later in the summer and autumn. The question is what limitations might we still face later in the year when it comes to events and how can we still provide an ‘experience’ for our members? Of course, no one knows what the situation is going to be later in the year but it’s now becoming accepted that it won’t be ‘business as normal’.
We’re fortunate to have our Linksbook platform ready to go which can flourish in these times. In many ways we’ve always been strong on making the event experience more than just what happens at the golf course on the day, and this is certainly going to be the focus going forward.
Assuming venues (and of course government guidance) allow us, an adapted golf event can run along these lines and still add value and deliver solid commercial results:
1. Specific communication on health and safety and a thorough risk assessment must be taken at all venues. We’ve all done them before, but we are looking at a whole different ball game now.
2. All communication to attendees, as has become the standard, is via email or through a client branded website portal which we offer to all our clients as part of our service.
3. News on the event, tee times and groupings, health and safety guidance, and venue maps are all distributed well in advance to give members even more time to prepare. It’s important everyone feels confident and prepared when it comes to their arrival and what they can and can’t do on the day.
4. Organisers will need to provide more online content prior to the event – course previews, online competitions relating to the event itself - all to engage the audience more, given the more limited engagement on the day itself.
5. Goody bags may need to be dispatched prior to the event – attendees won’t feel comfortable being personally handed these on the day, and you might not feel comfortable handing them out.
6. We’ll need to keep an eye on the health of our guests. Anyone who feels the slightest bit unwell will sadly have to miss out. It’s not always possible but a healthy reserve list will help maintain event numbers due to the inevitable cancellations that will occur.
The event itself
1. There will need to be clear signage for the guests’ arrival directing them safely from the car park to the meeting point. That meeting point has to be large enough to socially distance correctly whether it’s by the practice putting green, the driving range or on the terrace. This might mean reducing event numbers to allow you to do this. It might also mean the use of a mobile PA system for a welcome and instructions.
2. We will need to ensure that guests do not congregate around the first tee prior to their tee time. Gone (for now) are the days where we can all gather to heckle our mates as they play their nervous tee shots off the first! We will need to carefully control who arrives at the tee and when.
3. Mobile scoring apps will be essential. We won’t be swapping scorecards and handing them in anytime soon. Scoring will be completed on your mobile phone – the advantage being that you will know instantly who’s the hot favourite for that first prize! We’ll be providing a user-friendly scoring platform for all golf events this year.
4. Marshalling on the course. Organisers will need to be out on the course making sure that there’s no bottle necks at tees and everyone is maintaining social distancing. We’ve always liked spending as much time out on the course as possible, taking photos and checking everyone’s happy, so nothing really changes for us in that respect.
5. The traditional halfway huts and drinks buggies will look very different for the foreseeable future. If the club does not have a catering department open, event organisers will need to provide pre-prepared snacks and drinks which can be collected group by group at a designated point and individually wrapped to maintain strict hygiene standards. Ditto if you want to provide bacon rolls in the morning!
6. Post round electronic scoreboards and prize table will need to be positioned outside at the original meeting point and there’ll be no hand shaking or group photographs when prizes are collected! Alternatively, prize givings can be done online post event, with prizes dispatched in the post.
7. Again, if catering is to be provided, it’s going to be more individual pre-prepared meals provided by the club or event organisers which can either be taken al-fresco if social distancing rules can be applied or to be eaten on the way home!
1. The post-event experience will become more important than ever. Clients will not get that immediate on the day feedback or networking opportunity they crave. The website portal that we set up will contain the online scoreboards and all the photos from the day which can be downloaded, together with a thank you message to all those attending. It effectively becomes the virtual clubhouse lounge post event and attendees should be encouraged to interact there.
2. Importantly, post event feedback surveys will become crucial. We are all entering into the unknown in many respects, and we will need to evaluate how we can improve on those initial event experiences.
So, events will undoubtedly look and feel different in the coming months, but then so will everything else in our world! The important thing is that we all make the effort to maintain our relationships with customers and members, and not abandon the annual golf day or those networking events which have served companies, charities and societies so well in the past, and which attendees look forward to and feel valued to be part of. Arguably these events are now more important than ever following weeks of isolation – the opportunity for golfers to mix whilst social distancing and share their passion for golf, whilst companies and charities can maintain that connection with its customers.
Linksbook will be looking to arrange the first of its network golf days later this summer when government guidance allows.
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