Also in today’s roundup: The Villages lean even more on golf as other activities shut down; a Head Professional takes the helm of a Tennessee club amid the pandemic; the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour creates the #SaveGolf FUND—donating proceeds of every sale to help benefit those who work in the golf industry; and John Deere is producing protective face shields for health-care workers at John Deere Seeding Group in Moline, Ill.
Here is C+RB‘s latest roundup and summary of club-related developments surrounding the pandemic that have recently been reported. Please send updates on what your property is doing that you would like to share with the C+RB community to [email protected].
All of C+RB’s daily updates on the coronavirus situation can be found at https://clubandresortbusiness.com/category/covid-19/.
Golf Takes Center Stage
—Golf in The Villages, a massive senior-citizen community located an hour northwest of Orlando, Fla., has gotten even more popular than before because it is the only game left in town, wrote Steve Trivett—longtime golf writer and now a resident of The Villages—for the Morning Read.
The Villages, with some 130,000 year-round residents, is an active-lifestyle community. It features 93 recreation centers plus dozens of swimming pools, softball diamonds, bowling centers, pickleball courts, tennis courts and other sites for ageless athletes, the Morning Read reported. Three town squares in the development, which sprawls across more than 32 square miles in parts of three central Florida counties, offer nightly entertainment. Residents gather and literally dance in the streets.
But all of those recreational facilities are now closed. Because of the widening coronavirus pandemic, Gov. Ron DeSantis issued a “stay at home” order effective April 3, the Morning Read reported. After the North Florida Section of the PGA of America sought a clarification of the order, golf was considered to be an “essential activity,” and courses were allowed to remain open, provided that federal social-distancing guidelines are followed.
The Villages features 12 championship courses, 41 nine-hole executive courses, an 18-hole walking-only pitch-and-putt course and an 18-hole walking-only grass putting course, the Morning Read reported. All remain open for Villages residents, an estimated one-third of whom are regular golfers, even though many golf courses elsewhere in Florida and nationwide have closed because of local or state edicts or by self-regulation.
“We are still operating,” said Gordy Carlson, the Head Professional at Orange Blossom Hills Country Club, the oldest championship course in The Villages. “We have found things we needed to change to make playing golf safe for our residents, and right now we are doing what we can to allow people to play the game they love to play.”
Across the U.S., 41 percent of the 5,350 courses that have a business relationship with GolfNow have closed because of coronavirus concerns, the online tee-time reservation operator reported April 7.
Clearly, that trend hasn’t made it to The Villages. Under new regulations, tee times have been assigned farther apart, each player is allowed to take his or her own golf cart (not a problem in The Villages, where nearly every household owns at least one cart), ball washers have been closed, flagsticks remain in the holes and all restaurants and bars at the courses have been closed, the Morning Read reported. In addition, all tournaments – including weekly men’s and women’s days and The Villages Golf Championship, an annual event that normally draws more than 500 participants – where competitors and others tend to gather around scoreboards after play, have been postponed.
Charlie Brewer, who has been a starter at Silver Lake for more than five years, made sure that no one teed off on the first hole of the executive course until the group ahead had hit their tee shots on the second tee, to maintain a safe distance between groups, the Morning Read reported.
“It’s hard, because we by nature are social animals, especially here in The Villages,” he said from behind a mask that he said his wife made him wear to work. “But we are doing the best we can under the circumstances that still allow us to keep playing golf.”
In other changes to normal golf operations in The Villages, the practice ranges remain open, but spacing is greater than normal between the hitting mats and practice balls that are dispensed only from machines, the Morning Read reported. The Villages Golf Academy is conducting lessons by streamed video, but both of The Villages Custom Club retail shops closed for sales and club fittings.
“Everything is very fluid and can change day-to-day,” Carlson said. “But we are doing everything in our power to keep playing golf and still keep our friends and neighbors safe during this trying time.”
A New Role
—Imagine starting a new job among the chaos that is the coronavirus pandemic. That’s exactly what the new Head Professional at Johnson City (Tenn.) Country Club (JCCC) is dealing with.
Tyler Deaver started his job at JCCC April 4 and there were plenty of golfers on the course, the Johnson City Press reported.
Deaver moved to Johnson City from Athens (Ga.) Country Club, where he was an Assistant Professional, the Press reported. This is the first head professional job for the 32-year-old. He replaces Jeremy Beachner, who resigned last year.
“I’m extremely excited,” Deaver said. “This is the kind of place I love. There’s a lot of history here, which attracted me to this job. I’ve seen the golf course a few times. I played it once. I’m a huge A.W. Tillinghast fan. I love the layout of it, the character of it.”
Deaver said he didn’t know much about the annual Tillinghast Invitational, but he’s excited to be part of it, the Press reported. The tournament is scheduled for June 6-7 and Deaver says, as of now, it’s still on.
“As of right now, the dates are still the same,” he said. “I’m sure we’re going to have a staff meeting to discuss future events. As of this moment, the only events postponed are in April.”
Several things attracted Deaver to JCCC, who grew up in Greenville, S.C. and has worked at clubs in South Carolina, North Carolina and Georgia.
“Part of this deal is ownership of the golf shop, which is something I’ve wanted to do,” he said. “The history of the club attracted me. I’ve worked at four places as an assistant golf professional and three of them have been Donald Ross golf courses. I’m a big golf architect nerd.
“The clubhouse here is gorgeous,” Deaver continued. “That’s what I liked about it, the history and the character of it. And during the interview process, the members of the search committee were awesome. They were a pleasure to be around. It was easy to make the decision.’’
Now that he’s on duty, Deaver has jumped right into action, the Press reported.
“I think my first goal is to increase the quality of the member experience,” he said. “I think I have to work with the staff inside and out. First things first. We have to get everything organized and cleaned so we’re in a position to be able to work.”
Meeting Member Needs
—Clubs, now more than ever, are proving their worth by offering pantry items, to-go food and food delivery.
“A month ago, we never expected our value add for club membership would consist of paper products,” said Don Madalinksi, General Manager of Eagle Creek Golf & Country Club in Naples, Fla.. “But when we saw our members’ needs change, we knew we had to do something.”
The average age of membership at Eagle Creek is 70. The CDC’s recommendation that those 65+ stay home, was enough of a reason to adapt to the changing needs of the membership.
“Keeping our membership safe while serving their needs, is our priority,” Madalinksi said. “To be able to deliver our members a gallon of milk or eggs and keep them from venturing out, helps keep everyone safe. With immediate family living up North, this service also gives their families peace of mind.”
Golf Course Maintenance
—Golf courses around Minnesota got some good news April 8, though they still remain closed, the St. Paul Pioneer Press reported. As part of the executive order Governor Tim Walz will sign to extend the stay-at-home order in the state to May 4, golf course grounds crew workers now will be able to maintain their courses. Previously, individual government entities had to declare golf course employees essential, as Ramsey County had done.
Now, all courses can be properly maintained even while they remain closed, the Pioneer Press reported. Golfers and courses around the state continue to hope Walz eventually will include golf on the list of approved outdoor activities, as is the case for many states, but that has yet to happen. That’s not to say it won’t. Walz said there is a mechanism in this executive order that allows him to be strategic in determining what can open and when over the next month.
Last week, Mark McCabe, the director of Ramsey County’s Parks and Recreation department, said the county and other golf operators continue to have communication with the governor’s office, the Pioneer Press reported. McCabe said his department was “putting together a modified service delivery plan” that potentially could alleviate those areas of congestion. That plan could include keeping clubhouses closed, collecting payments in advance via pre-reservations, reducing the number of people out at a given tee time, spacing out tee times and even limiting each cart to one person.
“This hasn’t been done before, so we’re learning, listening and being smart about it,” Walz said. “I’m being very cognizant about hearing people when they’re asking and saying, ‘This activity should work.’ Please keep working with us on this.”
Walz said he has been approached by people who want boat storage facilities to be able to open for a day so people can go in and, one by one, get their boats out, the Pioneer Press reported.
“That makes great sense. That’s what we should be doing—smartly, make sure there’s protocols, how do we do it,” he said. “Same thing with the golf. I know people are saying, ‘Wow, what an elitist thing to worry about’ or whatever. Well, people, if it’s their activity, there’s an economic activity associated with it, and there’s also mental health associated with it. We’re trying to look across the whole spectrum. It’s not going to be a typical summer, but I’m envisioning, if we get this right, where we’re not driving people all over, we’re being somewhat courteous of one another … we’re going to have to think about it and we’re going to have to keep working together.”
Letting course employees do course maintenance means courses can be ready for play as soon as they’re allowed to open, the Pioneer Press reported. Greens and fairways need to be kept to a certain length so they don’t turn into fields, and courses need to be watched to avoid overgrowing and, as the season progresses, disease.
“We do think that there are many [businesses] out there—mowing of the golf courses being one of those—that fit social distancing,” Walz said. “That make sense to get things going.”
In Ohio, the border of Michigan, Highland Meadows superintendent Greg Pattison, has reduced the size of his maintenance crew until things are back to normal and they’re only doing work that is necessary to keeping the course in good shape, The Bay City Times reported. The biggest issue the state’s courses are facing is maintaining the quality of greens because the cost of getting them back into top shape could be astronomical.
“It could be $100,000 to $200,000 to get them back, if not more,” Pattinson said. “I’d have to think about it a little more, but you’d almost have to till them and reseed them. Then there’s your lost revenue down the road too [if you lose the greens].
“You’re mowing greens but at a higher level. You’re just trying to keep them alive and keep them playable and then you adjust when the time comes,” he added. “We’re really trying to limit the point of contact. We’ve actually took our cups and turned them upside down. Those are the things were doing to keep it open. If this were December, I don’t think we’d be working.”
But now that the weather is warming up, the grass is growing again and it requires some TLC, The Times reported.
“You can’t just go all year and not take care of your greens or you’re starting over,” Greg Hodges, owner of Rustic Glen Golf Club in Saline, Mich. said. “If you’re planting new grass for greens, you‘re not going to golf on it for six months. We usually mow the greens every day during golf season so they’re nice for the golfers.
“We’re mowing them twice a week now. We’re mowing the fairways twice a week,” he continued. “You can’t let the grass get too long before you go out and mow it. It’s not healthy for the grass.”
It’s not just the owners and members who are suffering during the golf shutdown in Michigan, The Times reported. Many of the grounds crew members who would normally be working now are unemployed, causing them financial distress as well.
“This is the time of the year when we’d be bringing staff on as the grass is starting to grow,” Hodges said. “You hire some new people because most courses are 130 acres. That’s a lot of mowing.”
—Through May 15, the Hurricane Junior Golf Tour (HJGT) is creating the #SaveGolf FUND where they will be donating all of the proceeds of every sale made to help benefit those who work in the golf industry, or at any golf course or country club, and may have been negatively affected by the current crisis.
As part of the #SaveGolf initiative, each day there will be new and exclusive items and experiences that can be won in an online auction, all while helping to support the cause. Find a direct link to this silent auction by visiting www.hjgt.org/SaveGolf. There are multiple other ways that businesses and individuals can contribute:
-Participate in the online #SaveGolf charity auction between 4/8-5/15;
-Donate directly to the #SaveGolf FUND through the website;
-Donate goods or services through your business to help support the Silent Auction;
Anyone that works in the golf industry or at a golf course that has been affected by this misfortune can apply to receive a donation by visiting HJGT.org/SaveGolf. Donations will be given out weekly to eligible applicants.
—Without the coronavirus outbreak, March was set up, from a weather standpoint, to continue the good start to golfing activity that saw significant increases in rounds in January and March. March’s weather impact turned in a fifth consecutive month of gains as Golf Playable Hours (GPH) were up 24 percent nationally, Pellucid reported. That’s a second month of double-digit gains this year and boosts the Year-to-Date (YtD) result to +19 percent.
—John Deere, in collaboration with the UAW, the Iowa Department of Homeland Security and the Illinois Manufacturers’ Association, is producing protective face shields at John Deere Seeding Group in Moline, Ill. Deere employees will initially produce 25,000 face shields to meet the immediate needs of health-care workers in several of its U.S. manufacturing communities.
Materials and supplies are on order to produce an additional 200,000 face shields. The company is using an open-source design from the University of Wisconsin-Madison for the project and leveraging expertise, skills, and innovation of its employee base.
“Our manufacturing and supply management teams, along with our production and maintenance employees, the UAW, and our partners have worked tirelessly to ensure we could lend our support and protect our health-care workers during this crisis,” said John May, Chief Executive Officer, Deere & Company. “By working closely with the communities where our employees live and work, we can help support the needs we’ve identified close to home and, as the project expands, address additional, urgent needs across the country.”
—Titleist, along with Vokey, Scotty Cameron, FootJoy, and KJUS, are partnering with the Center for Disaster Philanthropy (CDP) to help raise money for the COVID-19 Response Fund.
Through April 30, 15 percent of every purchase on Titleist.com, along with online purchases directly from each brand listed, will be donated to the Center for Disaster Philanthropy COVID-19 Response Fund.
—MembersiQ will be providing COVID-19 retention strategies and serving up weekly ideas and (ever-evolving) best practices for connecting your members during this unprecedented time through the #MyClubToGo series. On the agenda this week: helping you develop a virtual programming plan.
—foreUP Golf Software has launched a series of new tools and features that will allow golf courses to operate without human-to-human interaction. Among these tools are Mobile Check In, a Digital Starter Sheet, and Online Retail for Passes/Memberships. They’ve also added new functionality for existing features, like increment setting control, requiring online prepayments for tee times, and allowing customers to pay with known payment methods saved to their files.
—59club USA will provide its finalized employee survey tools to golf clubs and other hospitality venues amid the COVID-19 crisis for free. The employee survey tools capture employee challenges, concerns, and potential opportunities all in one easy-to-use snapshot. 59club USA has previously made available survey tools intended for club guests and members. The complimentary survey tools will be available throughout the current crisis.
59club’s proprietary survey tools enable club managers to identify both employee and guest needs, strengthen customer retention and recognize a clear direction on ways to improve the overall experience at their respective clubs. The smart dashboard allows clubs to analyze data in a clear and concise manner and provides demographic filters to further segment information from employees, creating a comprehensive, manageable and immediate snapshot of employee opinion and attitude. 59club has created COVID-19 specific survey templates as part of their free offering of their survey tools. Managers and decision makers have the freedom to create additional custom questions of their own to better fir their needs and goals using the software.
—Inntopia Digital can help golf resorts looking to find revenue in this economic climate set up online stores to sell merchandise.
Golf resorts have incredibly strong brands, so many are starting to entertain the idea of selling their stock of gift-shop online. This is allowing them increase retail shop sales of select items such as golf clubs, apparel and accessories.
While this is foreign territory for many golf resorts, it’s second nature for Inntopia, who is donating 200 hours of work this month. The company will:
-Set up Shopify stores start to finish;
-Ensure they’re optimized for search (critical for store growth); and
-Get social and analytics integrations running.
—In response to the current situation affecting golf courses, and in an attempt to keep golf facilities safe, open, and in compliance with the NGCOA’s proposed “Park and Play” Best Practices Guide, Club Prophet and Gallus Golf expanded their combined PreCheck-In technology that will allow courses to collect all green fees without face-to-face interaction with their golfers.
Gallus and Club Prophet previously launched with this technology, making it available in the courses’ mobile app; but expanded into any web-connected device (desktop, tablet, phone-web). This PreCheck-In technology is now available to all Club Prophet customers in the United States, and the fees for the service have been waived until further notice.
To watch a video of the technology in action, click here.
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