Sleepless nights and financial plights: Managing a golf club in a Covid world

Sleepless nights and financial plights: Managing a golf club in a Covid world

For the directors of Skipton, dealing with lockdown has become all too familiar. With the doors currently shut for the third time in this pandemic, we asked some of the club’s key players to talk about their experiences

“It was easier this time around,” admits Skipton Golf Club director John Chacksfield. “The first time we were feeling our way through it.”

Now ten months into a coronavirus pandemic that’s raging more fiercely than at any point, it’s a measure of the situation golf clubs find themselves in that the third instruction to shut the doors across England at the start of this month was met with something approaching resignation.

And the knowledge that only comes from being veterans in a crisis.

“It was totally unprecedented [last March],” Chacksfield adds. “We’d never done anything like that before. I had to organise around a lockdown.

“The third time around, our members also knew exactly what needed to be done in terms of safe golf and the expectations. Hopefully, this is going to be the last one and we can move on from there.”

It’s been a tough road.

“In terms of the club and the board and how we’re feeling, many sleepless nights really over the last year, and probably going into this year, around what’s going to be the next step,” explains fellow director Chris Payne.

“What are we going to do? How are we going to move forward? Fortunately, from our side of things, we are in a reasonable position as a club, but we have to make some really difficult decisions at the moment.”

In a sit-down for NCG’s From the Clubhouse Podcast, John and Chris, along with director Roger Moore and captain Ian Sewell, talked about how Skipton have dealt with an unprecedented last 10 months.

You can listen to the whole episode below, but we picked out three themes that have summed up coronavirus for the Yorkshire club…

The captain in the year of Covid

Being chosen as your club’s captain is still the ultimate honour for many golfers. So it was for Ian Sewell, who entered 2020 looking forward to a year of fundraising, special events and ceremonial dinners.

But the last 12 months hardly passed in the manner he would have hoped. Skipton didn’t hold a single function in the clubhouse. The experience was so curtailed that Ian will take the reins again this year and hope he can enjoy something of a traditional term in office.

“It’s just very difficult to be able to organise the golf in the way that you would want to do that,” he says.

“I think our expectation was that we wouldn’t get a full year [in 2020] in but we did start playing golf in May, which was earlier than anybody anticipated.

“So we did manage to get a full year of golf, in terms of all the competitions that we wanted to play, but there was very little room for manoeuvre.

“We didn’t really have any of the fun golf competitions or any opportunities for the club to make any money in terms of sponsorship.

“To that extent, the club have asked me to do the captaincy for the second year – so at least I can get some enjoyment out of it as well.

“This time, because the lockdown is in the winter, it does help us a little bit. We’re hoping, anticipating, by the time this lockdown finishes that we will be in a position to have a full year of normal golf. And I think everybody’s looking forward to that.”

How the members rallied round

For all that golf was the socially distanced sport of coronavirus, and clubs filled up with members and tills rang with green fees, members have also had to be hugely patient.

By the time this third lockdown comes to an end, a subscription payer could have lost more than five months of the year to a closed golf course.

That brings frustrations – both from a sporting and financial point of view. But, says Roger Moore, as Skipton have navigated through these uncharted waters they’ve had the majority of members behind them.

“We were all, going back to last May, very pleasantly surprised by the amount of understanding, the compliance, but also the support we got as a club – through clubs competitions and open events which were absolutely fully booked throughout the golfing season as it was last year.

“It’s left us in a position where we’re pretty optimistic about going forward, certainly on the golfing side.

“We got a fantastic course, we’ve got a loyal membership, a membership that is growing in numbers and all of that puts us on a good footing to look forward to 2021.

“At the same time, the pause we have at the moment gives us an opportunity to look at what we’re doing and how we’re doing it, and hopefully come up with offerings not only on the golfing side, but also on the hospitality front that will prove attractive to members and visitors once we can play golf again.”

How Skipton comes out of Covid

Furloughs, grants, loans – anything that could give Skipton a chance to shore themselves up as income drained away in the first lockdown was taken.

A new swing studio is now on the way, the club have changed their membership year so it falls at the height of the season in June, and Skipton are expecting similar levels of enthusiasm to those that gripped the entire sport when England first emerged from lockdown last Spring.

So there is a lot of optimism about what lies ahead.

“We’ve got a fantastic course – a very challenging course set in beautiful countryside and we’ve got a very loyal membership,” says Chacksfield.

“Our small group of employees have really shone. They’ve been presented with some very difficult circumstances and they have to be congratulated on how they’ve adapted to the situation.

“Hats off to the staff and the membership. We’ve got a really strong board of directors, who are very keen to make it all work when we can get back to normal.”

“For me,” adds Payne, “we’re extremely privileged with the setting of the golf club and, in a time when personal wellbeing and mental health is really challenging, to be able to get out there and play golf and see the views that we’ve got.

“If you haven’t been to Skipton, have a look at the website, the Twitter account, and look at the pictures that members post on there there.

“The views are incredible and, from a personal wellbeing side of things, being out there is really important.”

Now listen to the full interview…

The directors of Skipton Golf Club were talking with Steve Carroll about their experiences of coronavirus lockdown on the From the Clubhouse podcast from NCG.

Listen to the full episode below, or search ‘The NCG Podcast’ in your preferred podcast platform.

How has your club dealt with the coronavirus pandemic? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

Subscribe to NCG

Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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