The strange reasoning behind keeping golf courses closed
Clubs are raring to go and believe they are able to put in place all the necessary safety measures
A previous article included the medical concerns about Covid-19 being potentially terminal to people with underlying health issues. These concerns were included with the increasing suspicion that the cure, if that is what lockdown protocols turn out to be part of, could prove to be worse than the problem.
This perspective was then used in the analogy that the three-week lockdown will potentially have the same effect on golf clubs and businesses with underlying business health issues and force the closure of marginal entities.
It is no longer three weeks but five weeks and counting as we move into level 4, with no clarity on when each phase will be implemented, so there is no agreed finishing post in sight.
It is not easy for governments to make the right calls, but increasingly too many of the decisions seem to be arbitrary, illogical and unjustified.
Crowding everyone outside in a three-hour window for exercise in many ways typifies the muddied and contradictory thinking. Given the ongoing uncertainty, I asked two questions to five people in the business of golf.
Question 1: What protocols can be put in place to ensure a safe trading environment for customers and staff at golf clubs, ranges and retail outlets? The responses were:
• Jason Rowe (CEO of The Golfers Club)
“Our stores rarely serve more than eight customers at any given time, yet most supermarkets are at capacity throughout the day. Our hygiene and safety protocols will be no different to supermarkets, so I can’t understand why we aren’t allowed to trade.
“Technically speaking, we could squeeze into operational mode at level 4, because we sell winter clothing. However, this would be commercial suicide as winter clothing makes up only about 5% of our total business but will require a significant staff presence and up to 100% of the overhead costs, which includes rent, utilities and advertising, making such an option unsustainable.
“Retail and playing golf are co-dependent, making opening a golf store, when the golf courses remain closed, untenable. It would be like allowing car dealerships to open but prohibiting driving.”
• Chris van der Merwe (GM of Stellenbosch Golf Club and chair of the Club Managers’ Association SA, the CMASA)
“The joint approach (PGA, Golf RSA and CMASA) to the minister of sport, art & culture was predicated on the argument that golf can assist the government in its quest to contain the impact of the Covid-19 virus on our communities, because golf courses provide safe and very controllable open spaces.
“Social distancing is a given and stringent hygiene measures can be implemented and enforced. Aligned with this is that golf is a popular physical exercise proven to be good for body and mind, and any socioeconomic impact on employees, particularly the most vulnerable in our communities, can be mitigated without causing any additional health risk.
“The permission sought will allow golf as a safe exercise regime from alert level 4 and is entirely at a survival mode level and will not be a full operational mode for clubs.”
• Grant Hepburn (CEO of Golf RSA)
“We are confident we can achieve at levels equal to or better than other business sectors, which are open in terms of the current health protocols.
“However, we are also in consultation with health experts to make sure that golf, as a gateway, is as effective as possible. The details for this are still in a development phase, but we anticipate that it will include daily screening of all staff and for any customers, members and guests, and that on-site testing will be available.
“The plan will be that should the person screen positive, they will be tested and asked to go home and their details will be passed into the government database for it to perform the necessary follow-ups.”
• Jeff Clause (GM St Francis Links)
“We can easily conform to the required distancing and health protocols, both in terms of golfers and our staff.
“As a resort which caters to international visitors, our health and safety protocols are pretty advanced anyway. It will mean that we shall have to lower our own expectations of what we like to deliver in terms of the golf experience at St Francis Links, but if one person per cart and a drive through halfway to get a boerie roll “on the go” is what it takes then so be it.”
• Morné Botha (GM Pecanwood Golf & Country Club)
“Precautions and control measures will be put into place, as per the Government Gazette, as will any updated requirements as we move forward. These protocols are now the law and must be implemented as indicated by the Occupational Health and Safety Act, so they are not an option but have become mandatory.
“The list of requirements is extensive and includes the wearing of masks, provision for sanitising stations, stringent protocols on how to clean public areas, touch-points, through to keeping records of who cleans what, where and how, to detailing how the process will be implemented and how the disposal of products being used will be managed.
“Many of these requirements are a given for us and we don’t really need guidance to implement these measures. This is because making our members and residents feel safe has always been a priority.
“They trust us and their safety is very important, and so building on this foundation, coupled with the safety protocols, will help to get people back to the course and facilities safely going forward.”
• The second question and response in this feature will appear in Tuesday’s Business Day.