After the coronavirus pandemic hit, golf was considered “essential” in many states, and was either never stopped or welcomed back quickly. And at properties where other outdoor activities are also popular, it wasn’t alone.
When the coronavirus pandemic hit, clubs across the country were forced to shift operations on the fly. Fortunately for many properties, outdoor activities were either uninterrupted or permitted to return prior to their indoor counterparts.
Anthony Stewart, Director of Tennis at The Carolina Country Club in Spartanburg, S.C., says his members have seemed to be OK with social-distancing changes made at the club, and he actually views the global pandemic as a way to bring more people to his sport.
“There are a lot more people that could be recruited into tennis than previously expected,” Stewart says. “I’ve had a lot more people that did not play before, but because they couldn’t do anything else, they came out and played tennis.”
Stewart believes the industry can still do more, however, to find ways to make tennis fun for the masses.
“I have played tennis all my life and enjoy the competition part, plus the social part,” he says. “Too many times pros and organizers, including myself, push players into leagues and tournaments, and not everyone wants that. I think we have lost a lot of players because they think that is what they have to do. To bring the younger players—20 to 40—into the sport, we need to make it more fun.”
Properties Without Borders
The Greenbrier in White Sulphur Springs, W. Va. boasts an unbelievable amount of outdoor activities—everything from fly fishing, hiking and mountain biking to a gun club, golf, tennis, off-road driving and falconry. And that’s just a small sample.
Cam Huffman, The Greenbrier’s Director of Public Relations and Content, says the resort has been able to operate almost all of its activities following a two-month shutdown and reopening in May.
“There have been some modifications for safety, such as the number of people allowed in a group and extra cleaning procedures, but the changes haven’t been too restrictive,” Huffman says. “For the most part, our guests have been very understanding. I think most people have a desire to get back to something at least somewhat normal, and they are willing to follow the proper procedures to be able to do so.”
Desert Mountain Club in Scottsdale, Ariz. is also flush with outdoor activities for its members—seven golf courses, tennis (on three different surfaces), pickleball, swimming, bocce, horseback riding and 2,000 acres of hiking. But it also still found ways to expand its offerings when the virus hit.
Beyond the social-distancing guidelines for the club’s golf courses—single-rider carts, no-touch flagsticks, no rakes in bunkers and dozens of daily sanitation protocols—Desert Mountain brought the indoors outside and kept members active on property and in their own homes, reports CEO Damon DiOrio, CCM, CCE.
“We took some of our activities outdoors and utilized our grass tennis courts and lawn areas to conduct fitness classes,” DiOrio says.
Desert Mountain members have been “very gracious, supportive and understanding of the guidelines and changes” the club has been forced to implement, he adds.
“As with any major lifestyle modification, this has not been easy, but we are all working hard together to make the best of it, and are keenly focused on protecting our safe, positive and healthy culture,” DiOrio says. “Our Board has been incredibly supportive, and my team deserves all the credit. Their willingness to go the extra mile to make our members comfortable, and to be a consistent, fully engaged and calming force, has really been gratifying.”
In addition to taking the club’s sanitization programs “to the next level in all operational areas”—which DiOrio says will remain in place for the long term—Desert Mountain will continue virtual real-estate tours and an expansion of Desert Mountain TV, the club’s own YouTube channel. “Pro Tips” from instructors throughout the club’s amenities have been popular and are also “here to stay,” DiOrio adds.
Business Pretty Much as Usual
Turtle Creek Club in Tequesta, Fla. quickly adhered to CDC recommendations and state/county mandates, and actually saw an increase in golf rounds played, reports Douglas W. Anderson, CCM/CAM, General Manager and Chief Operating Officer.
“We are in Martin County and golf was considered an ‘essential’ activity,’” Anderson says. “So we never shut down. We are on the border of Palm Beach County, so while our neighbors a half-mile away were dark for 30 days, we remained open for members to get outside for fresh air and exercise.”Turtle Creek adjusted its operation as the pandemic worsened and more restrictions were implemented, Anderson says, and staff and members were continually reeducated on proper guidelines. But even with walking-only play imposed during April, Turtle Creek was still doing 120 rounds per day.
“Factors included ‘snowbirds’ staying in town longer, people locked down except to golf, boredom, and [the need for] outdoor exercise—it all led to a very busy golf course,” Anderson says. “Adjustments, modifications to COVID rules and communicating with members and staff regularly helped get our members on the course.”
In May, Turtle Creek instituted single carts only, along with walking, and began doing 180 rounds per day.
Through it all, members responded favorably, Anderson says. “Overall, the membership was very appreciative that we were able to continue to stay open for golf, while also making it possible for them to get groceries [toilet paper and sanitizer were big hits], and to get lunch or dinner,” he says.
“Again, we never closed—we just made some modifications.”
A Safe Place for Kids
While the COVID-19 pandemic has forced everyone to reconsider how they’ll conduct business going forward, KE Camps, which operates summer camps for kids at private clubs across the country, has seen an increase in demand.
“We have had many clubs reach out to us [during the pandemic] in areas where their members’ children typically attend sleep-away camps,” says Dan Schmitz, KE Camps. “Since most major camps in the Northeast have been cancelled, clubs are doing their best to provide something to do for those kids.
“While it is easier to operate a controlled camp at a club,” Schmitz adds, “I would urge clubs to be very careful—especially in the Northeast—as they will need to operate with a camp license and may not be able to procure one so late in the game.”
While there are ways around getting licensed, clubs should research the requirements in their particular state and locality to make sure they are adhering to licensing regulations, Schmitz suggests.
As for the changes that KE Camps has implemented in its programming based on newly heightened safety concerns, Schmitz points to educating his staff first.
“Every year we publish a new program book for our camp directors,” he says. “This year we added an addendum of ‘socially distant’ programming that we can safely run.
“There will also be changes to how we operate at the pool and for tennis, golf and group games,” he adds. “It’s impossible to believe that young children will be able to properly socially distance themselves, but we are doing everything we can to mitigate risk.”
For clubs still considering a last-minute camp to accommodate their youngest members (and their parents) who may have found themselves without something structured for the summer, Schmitz advises avoiding it unless a team can be fully committed to a camp project.
“It’s late in the game and throwing a camp together sounds easy and fun,” he says. “But In reality, it’s incredibly hard and time-consuming to do it the right way—especially this summer, when most clubs are at limited capacity with pools and indoor dining.
“Don’t let one or two of the ‘louder’ members push you into doing something that has a chance to be less than an awesome product,” Schmitz warns.