Sunday, April 26, 2020

Golf Course Operator Surveys Shows How Pandemic Impacts Public Golf

Prepayment of Tee Times a Necessity for Doing Business for the Majority of Operators Surveyed

(ORLANDO, Fla.) – While the nation’s golf courses deal with unprecedented disruption of their day-to-day business due to state and city mandates due to the coronavirus pandemic, GOLFNOW is shedding some light on their most-pressing challenges by revealing results from golf course operator surveys taken in March and April.

With the most recent survey concluding on April 15, a total of nearly 1,300 responses were divided among the two questionnaires.

The most definitive data point in the research—whether the reporting facilities had closed for play—increased from a 42 percent to 62 percent, in just the couple of weeks between surveys. For many of those remaining open, manpower had been reduced by layoffs and furloughs. In the March GOLFNOW survey, 24 percent of respondents reported having laid off at least half their workers. In the April follow-up, that percentage had increased to 39 percent. Another 12 percent responding to the April survey said they had furloughed or laid off between one-quarter and one-half of their workforce.

Changes to payment practices are under consideration at many courses, with some operators describing online prepayment as a necessity for doing business. Short-staffing has been commonplace and the need to maintain safety precautions is vital, two factors that favor the “park and play” approach and discourage in-shop payment.

A pair of questions in the April survey revealed that among respondents who remain open for business, 52 percent were not accepting cash. The second question asked generally about forms of payment and provided multiple response options. A combined 17 percent said they had either “changed to online payments only” or “changed to credit card by phone only.” Six out of 10 said they were still at the golf shop counter, collecting payments and checking golfers in.

Mild winter weather in large parts of the U.S., combined with the lack of other entertainment options, increased early-spring golf activity in some places. The March survey revealed 24 percent said that rounds played had increased over the same period in 2019. In the April survey, 15 percent said rounds were even or increased.

When asked in the April survey how long their course could go without green fee revenue during golf season before their business “suffers irreparable damage,” 27 percent said less than one month, 50 percent said from one to three months and the remaining 22 percent said they could go three months or longer.

On that basis, interest in government relief was evident. Almost two-thirds, 63 percent, said they had visited the website in search of information about CARES Act programs to assist small businesses in distress as a result of COVID-19 disruptions.

Projections and speculation about the country’s transition from the COVID-19 crisis to a gradually more open economy have mentioned golf as an activity more easily restarted than many others. That may be a partial reason for the fairly optimistic outlook that emerges from the April study, which concludes with the question: “What do you expect business levels to be like following the COVID-19 outbreak?”

One in three, exactly 33 percent, said business would be “about normal.” A spirited 8 percent said “much better” than before and 22 percent said “slightly better” than before. Meanwhile 29 percent felt it would be “slightly worse” than before the crisis and 9 percent said “much worse.”

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