Inside lockdown: ‘It's going to be bedlam’ – how will clubs manage golf's daylight crisis?

English clubs face a very serious problem when they reopen after lockdown - a lack of light. Steve Carroll spoke to two managers to see how they will cope.

There was plenty to occupy Roger Hyder in May and time was chief among them. Even though the days stretched long at Canterbury, where he is general manager, it was still tight getting all the golfers who wanted to play around the course.

“We ended up where we had to have a two-tee start, nine holes only, and you could only play twice a week,” he explained as he remembered 10-minute booking times and twoballs.

Hyder is now looking ahead and sees a perfect storm coming – that golf will see another boom as players starved of action for a month rush to get back out onto the course, should the latest coronavirus lockdown come to an end on December 2.

With winter within touching distance, and only half the daylight hours available, it’s going to be a balancing act keeping an expanded membership happy.

“The complication for Canterbury is you’ve got members that have been denied access to their golf course again,” explained Hyder. “They are all going to want to play. We’ve got a pretty full membership at Canterbury.

“We’ve already said to the members that, for the first week for sure, Canterbury will be strictly members only.
“Whatever format we come back in, there will be no guests, no green fees, no societies, nothing.
“My gut feeling is we will have to extend it for two weeks. Then we’ve got to be very careful, because the business has taken a huge battering with regards to food and beverage.
“It’s almost a third of our income. We’re only a mile from the city centre. You have to take out a mortgage to park in Canterbury, so a lot of businesses use the meeting rooms.
“It’s a very important part of our business. It’s the non-golf side of it which, as a members’ club, is a perfect scenario because you can afford to take less green fees, which gives the members more exclusivity of their golf course.
“Now we’re in a situation where we have to backpedal. That income has gone and it probably won’t be back for 12 to 18 months.”

Hyder, who is also managing director of Beauport Park, which is run by his sons and where he said it would be “full steam ahead”, continued: “The world and its mother wants to play golf and it will again. We’ve got 700 playing members [at Canterbury], and one 18-hole golf course, so you don’t have to be a rocket scientist.”

And he added: “It’s almost a perfect storm for members’ clubs. We’ve enjoyed that boom on the golf side, and I haven’t seen this since the 80s: the take up, golf club sales, and the equipment sales [during the summer]. It’s ridiculous.

“It’s going to be a challenge for most middle to upper tier private members’ golf clubs in England. They are going to face the same challenge.
“We’ve sold lots of memberships and we are back up to where we were 20 years ago. It’s brilliant. Now it is going to come home to roost, unfortunately.
“It’s going to be bedlam and, if part of getting back to golf again is 10 minutes (tee times), I would hate to think of the response.”

It’s a view shared by independent golf consultant Phil Grice. He was in charge at Royal Norwich during the first lockdown when the club, with a membership of more than 1,000, had to impose strict conditions to ensure everyone got a chance to get out on the course.

He believes the industry will have to do that again and clubs will need to stand up to the minority of members who may want to “misuse the situation”.

“It will be compressed,” he said. “The one benefit is you are going into a month where, historically, golf isn’t played as much – purely and simply because people have got Christmas to manage.

“The daylight is shorter but you still will have more people than we have ever had before wanting to get out there.

“It is going to be under pressure. I would bring a fair use policy in. I would break it into two nine holes and guarantee [players] nine holes.

“There’s a possibility that we will come back as pairs but, even if not, I’d break into nine holes. If I was a member of a golf club, I would be happy to get out there and be guaranteed that – or two hours of exercise.

“I would rather take that over the missed opportunity of not getting a game. [As a manager] I would be looking to how I could maximise getting as many people on the golf course, but I would want parity. You have to have fair use policies.

“The only people who will kick off about them are the people who want to misuse the situation – the people who want to play three or four rounds that week – and don’t really care that other people are not getting a game.”

He added: “You’ve got to stand up and be open and honest with everybody. This is about everybody getting a fair crack of the whip, and not just a small amount who generally shout the loudest to get what they want.”

Steve Carroll