A customer browses through shirts at the Fourways golf store. Picture: SUPPLIED
A customer browses through shirts at the Fourways golf store. Picture: SUPPLIED

This is part two of the conundrum facing golf’s retail sector in a one-on-one Q&A with Jason Rowe, the CEO of the Golfers Club Group.

Consistency behind some of the decisions made by the government has been a major problem for many people.

John Cockayne (JC): I still cannot decide whether things such as being allowed to buy clothing, but not shorts or open-toed shoes, is representative of the competence levels of the national coronavirus command council or a complete disassociation from the realities on the ground and the intelligence of the public.

Jason Rowe (JR): The bottom line is that business hates uncertainty and that has pretty much been our staple diet since March. The recent findings of the high court certainly point fingers at the arbitrary nature of some of the decisions that have been made.

The continued uncertainties and irrational decisions made in SA, allied with what other countries are doing, means we cannot plan and there are other parallel effects. For example, the supply chain has been severely disrupted, so stock levels will also become a real issue in the coming months.

JC: Golf RSA worked, in conjunction with various golf bodies, with the sports minister to create the necessary environment and assurances within which the necessary protocols were established to reopen the courses again. Like many I still have an issue with the rationale behind the delayed opening, as social distancing is so easy to achieve in golf and, in many instances, at far better levels than in other business areas, which were allowed to trade much earlier. Was there any need for this prolonged discussion?

From June 1 you were allowed to walk as, when and where you liked while maintaining the social distancing requirements. Where was the difference between a 5km walk along a beach kicking a football, or doing the same on a golf course and stopping now and again to hit a golf ball?

In general, I am seriously tired with being nagged about social distancing. It becomes especially annoying when I go into a supermarket and do my shopping in five minutes, only to then have to queue for 20 more minutes in a line of people, because the staff limits imposed cause a human logjam at the cash desks.

Some of the clubs “broke ranks”, based on a common sense interpretation of the level 3 regulations, which decision was supported by legal advice in many cases. These actions were, it was argued, entirely justified, based on the exercise regulations, combined with observing the required protocols and only allowing members to play that is keeping the clubs as private facilities. Were you surprised?

JR: Not at all, it was almost inevitable and if the government thinks these reactions were unreasonable, then it only has itself to blame. The recent court action mentioned previously highlighted how the pandemic’s regulations have undermined our constitutional rights. Especially where we all have a right to make a living, and the reactions were indicative of how many people feel.

As transparency is a real issue in SA, solutions around this cannot be built in shadowy meetings, within a national council, in which the people involved might have who knows what undeclared agendas.

JC: Yes, leaving aside the semantics around the wording of the judgment by the legal profession, the message about the government’s decision-making processes and its impact on people’s livelihoods is very clear.

Having a high street retail operation of the nature of Golfers Club requires levels of staffing and processes that do not trouble the on-course shops at the clubs. What were the logistical and staffing impacts during the lockdown and what longer-term repercussions do you foresee?

JR: Serious and permanent damage has already happened throughout the business sector and it is largely the result of the government’s reaction to the pandemic. Golf is no different from other businesses. As a retail sector business we are simply not geared to have no income for any length of time.

Our business, which has taken over 20 years to build, was in real danger of being trashed in 65 days by what were essentially irrational decisions, made by people who seem to have very little business sense or experience.

We have pared down our staff numbers by 30%, which is permanent. We feel we shall be able to trade ourselves back into some level of viability — at least we hope so. However, this will not be achieved as a result of any help from the government.

We also have the added problem that to re-establish some sort of cash flows, we are selling stock at pre Covid-19 prices. This is at a time when the price levels have risen and the rand has weakened against the US dollar, which is the base of all our stock purchases.

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