The industry has seen an influx of golfers on the fairways, but social-distancing requirements and limited occupancy in facilities has forced properties to get creative when it comes to holding tournaments and outings.
While golf rounds played have seen a COVID-related boost across the country, tournaments and events haven’t been as fortunate.
Because of its socially distanced nature, golf was one of the first sports or activities to receive the OK to resume once the country began to re-open. But a restriction on how many people could gather on a property, and limited occupancy inside clubhouses, presented a separate conundrum when it came to hosting much-needed, revenue-generating tournaments and outings.
Chris McGinnis, PGA, Director of Golf at Pete Dye Golf Club in Bridgeport, W. Va., has hosted a pair of outings, as well as two in-house club events—the Member-Member and Club Championships—so far in 2020. In a typical year, he says, the club would have hosted five or six more outside events as well as its biggest in-house club event, the Member-Guest, which has now been postponed until October with the hope it can still be held. But all other outings were lost for the year.
“Our General Manager, Donna Mitchell, pretty much spoke with every group and got them to reschedule for 2021,” McGinnis says. “As of this point in time, every outing that we were supposed to host in 2020 has picked a date in 2021 to hold their event.”
Dean Kandle, PGA, Head Golf Professional of St. Davids Golf Club in Wayne, Pa., has hosted three corporate/charity outings, two Member-Guest events and weekly league play for members in 2020.
As with all golf activity at clubs throughout the U.S, numbers for rounds are up and demand is high at St. Davids, Kandle says. But the club lost five large outings and has postponed a majority of member events. St. Davids moved its annual two-day Men’s Invitational from June to August, but then had to cancel it. It also moved two charity outings to this fall, still hoping it will be able to host them.
Though the club didn’t gain any events because of COVID cancellations elsewhere, it still didn’t lack for activity. “With the excessively high demand from our membership, we were focused on providing course access for them, first and foremost,” Kandle says.
BALANCING THE NEEDS
St. Davids formed a COVID-19 Committee in April, which included the Club President, several Board members, the General Manager and the Golf Professional, to evaluate all virus-related decisions, which included safely restarting events.
“Our guiding principles were to keep the staff safe first, and then evaluate if we could provide a safe atmosphere for our players,” Kandle says. “Next, we focused on the experience that we would be able to provide.
“If the circumstances compromised the experience to the point we didn’t think we could satisfy the expectations of our participants, that weighed heavily on our decisions,” he adds. “We wanted to protect course access and not limit availability for a large group of players, just to provide an event experience for a smaller group.”
At Pete Dye GC, everyone has been involved in the decision-making process, McGinnis says—from the owners, the General Manager, and Food & Beverage Manager to every other staff member at the club.
“As the Director of Golf, I asked everyone in my department to let me know if they thought we should do something a different way,” he says. “I know all of the other managers have done the same with their staffs. We are all in this together on a day-to-day basis, and the only way to make everyone feel safe has been to let them have a say in how we do things.”
Jeff Yost, Head Golf Professional of Primland in Meadows of Dan, Va., says the club hosts two full-course events each year, both of which cancelled in 2020. However, Primland’s strength is in hosting “intimate events,” traditionally events with fewer than 20 people. The club has seen more of these recently—going from one every couple of weeks when it reopened on May 21, to one per week at this time.
While Primland has a dedicated event coordinator, Yost says it has been a team effort in keeping the tee sheet full.
“Primland’s Golf Operations staff prides itself on the personal relationships with our intimate event companies and their coordinators,” he says. “Our intimate events are ‘salvaged’ or rescheduled by Golf Operations. With a relatively small staff, we are all responsible for fostering these relationships, and no specifically dedicated individual was assigned the task.
“What we have seen is these events are being rescheduled for later in the year, with the hope that corporate and governmental restrictions will ease,” Yost continues. “Many times this year, events have been cancelled and rescheduled multiple times, hoping that the next month will be the month the event can occur.”
The first line of defense at Primland is temperature checks at the security gates.
“Every person coming on property, guest or employee, has their temperatures checked and recorded,” Yost says. “Also, before entering, all guests visiting Primland must complete a ‘Guest Arrival Form,’ outlining their history of COVID-19 exposure, if any, as well as a symptom verification and the area from which they have traveled.”
Washable gloves and a Primland face mask are provided to each staff member. Disposable masks and hand-sanitizing stations are made available in multiple areas—both on and off the course—for guests and staff. A temperature station is also available for both staff and guests, in case someone feels feverish.
Pete Dye GC has gone to all-online registration and scoring for its events, McGinnis says, which has reduced the amount of contact members and guests have had with the staff.
“Our staff members are still wearing PPE equipment on a daily basis. We have also tried to restrict as much contact as possible while still providing a service,” he says.
“We don’t shake hands when greeting our members and guests,” he adds. “Nor do we valet their cars like we used to. However, we will still put on gloves and load or unload their clubs if they wish us to do so.”
THE GREAT UNKNOWN
Nobody knows how the industry will look in a post-COVID world, but St Davids’ Kandle says having the extended time between groups on the first tee has had a positive effect.
“When we [re]opened, we were using 15-minute intervals to spread out play,” he says. “We’ve moved to 12 minutes vs. our pre-COVID intervals of 10. This has alleviated many of our pace-of-play issues, while still allowing us to meet player demand, and it will continue.
“In addition, as we put together our calendar for next year, we will focus on how the volume of events affects the membership and if our calendar was detracting from the availability of the golf course,” Kandle adds. “Certainly, everything we did previously will be up for evaluation and discussion.”
For McGinnis, the golfer remains his focus at Pete Dye GC.
“Right now, it is hard for me to believe that we will ever go fully back to the way things were before COVID,” he says. “I’m OK with that, as long as we don’t lose our ability to provide people with an escape from their stresses in life, and keep them around this game that we love so much.”
Summing It Up
> When COVID-19 shut down much of the country, clubs that lost outings and tournaments in the spring looked to reschedule for later in the year, or at least get them on the calendar for 2021.
> Deciding when and how to safely host golf events is a club-wide process—from the General Manager and Head Golf Professional to the Chef and Board of Directors.
> Temperature checks and PPE gear are just part of the “new normal” when it comes to hosting events at the club.