Mick Thorpe has been a busy man at Scarcroft over the last few weeks – but it will surprise no one the work he’s been doing has been as novel as the coronavirus sweeping the world.
As days have turned into a month, the general manager at the Yorkshire club has been contacting societies, visiting parties, and those signed up to open days to persuade them to rearrange.
With the return of golf no closer, it is 2020’s budgeted income that’s simply vanishing before his eyes – the green fees returned or rescheduled and the food and drink unsold.
In all the uncertainty that surrounds the sport during the pandemic, the one thing we do know is the impact on the industry will be massive.
Not just now, as clubs and courses continue to be shut, but for a long time into the future.
But how big could that be? How are clubs estimating the damage that will be done and what opportunities – if any – will exist when we all start grappling with the ‘new normal’?
Scarcroft are your archetypal private members’ club. Based in North Leeds, they have a decent sized membership and are a popular venue for visitors and groups.
So we asked Mick to look at five key areas – the course, income, membership, how they could operate on reopening, and their prospects for survival – to see how the virus has made a mark. This is what he had to say…
Scarcroft have taken their lead from BIGGA and the R&A and their greenkeeping team, which has been gradually furloughed as the lockdown continued, has been carrying out only essential maintenance…
Essential work is keeping it manageable and we slowly furloughed more of the greenstaff over the first couple of weeks.
We’ve got three in now. We’ve changed the cutting sequence and kept things above the normal playing heights – just to look after the grass as well.
The rough isn’t getting cut as often, as it’s one of the less essential areas according to BIGGA, but we are just trying to keep it manageable and tidy so that when we get the go-ahead we’ll be able to drop the cuts and get it down to playing condition.
For greens and fairways, we are looking at a couple of days’ notice – two to three to get them down to a decent height.
A proper working week would be ideal to get the staff back in and get all the machines reset and down to those heights.
We have top-dressed while we’ve been away but the greens are not getting the TLC they normally would.
A busy course, with lots of visitors, societies and well subscribed open events, Scarcroft have budgeted for a significant downturn in income in 2020 – describing a loss of around £100,000 as “potentially massive”….
Bookings were ahead of where we were last year. We were predicting green fee income from visitors of around £80,000 to £90,000, which is up on last year.
We were looking at about £16,000 income from open competitions. We’ve lost the first two opens. We rang everyone who was on the starter sheet and 75 to 80 per cent have rebooked for next year and we are very pleased with that.
We’ve put together the scenarios and their effect on the business. We’re looking at a business loss of around £100,000 so it is potentially massive. That’s the worst-case scenario.
We’re hoping anything within that six months will be better than that. We are looking at ways of getting that back.
Scarcroft are fortunate, in comparison with many clubs, in that their renewals period is at the start of the year. But the club are conscious that members are likely to have gone months without teeing it up before golf is once more permitted…
We’ve got our subscriptions in for this year. We will be monitoring how other clubs are dealing with it as I am aware some are struggling to get their income in. People are asking for all sorts of discounts and allowances.
The usual turnover is about 6% loss and they’re talking about 9% going forward. We’ve had very little in the way of members expressing the need or requirement for a discount.
I’ve had less than half a dozen contact me and they’re not demanding it. They are saying, ‘Is it being considered and what are the thoughts?’
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Generally, we’re quite upbeat about the reception we’ve had. We’ve had a lot of members thanking us for the information we are putting out there.
We are trying to be open and transparent about what’s happening and keep them informed.
We call them our shareholders. It’s a members’ club and that’s been at the fore in our board meetings.
We’ve had weekly Zoom meetings throughout this, and a couple when issues have come up, and it has been important to get them out to the members.
The message is: ‘This is your club. This is the time we need you to stand up and be counted. We’ve been there for you and we need you, more than ever, to be there for us to maintain it going forward’.
When courses reopen
How will we maintain social distancing? Can we achieve food and beverage and bar revenue? Should we allow visitors? What about competitions? These are questions all over the UK are trying to answer and Scarcroft are putting together detailed plans…
We’re talking about all tee times being bookable and members only. We will extend the tee time intervals. I read the piece about La Moye and we’ve got the option of having two-tee starts and playing 9-holes. That’s a good idea to get people back on course and introduced to playing again.
We’ve heard there could be a staggered return, in terms of the groups of people that are allowed back.
As regards catering and the bar, that’s probably going to be further down the line. It will be getting people out on the course first, getting them round and away without too much interaction with the social distancing requirements.
We’ve got to think of our members, initially. They are the ones who have put the money in and have paid a healthy fee. They can have first crack at getting back on the course.
We will have to analyse and assess how that goes. If we find we have got spare tee times, we could look to expand a little bit from there.
Will we survive?
Industry experts have been doom laden about the prospects for some golf clubs as a result of the coronavirus crisis. So how will Scarcroft fare?
We are certainly confident we will be able to come out on the other side. We’re already speaking to our banks and considering ways of raising revenue and what we are likely to need subscription-wise. We will need to liaise with our members and we will be very transparent about where we are and what we are trying to achieve.
We are looking to change how we work. We will fast track some of our ideas we have had. In many ways, out of these crises there are often opportunities to build and that’s how we are looking at it.
We are very positive from that perspective and this is an opportunity to improve the offering we have. There are going to be tough times ahead for a while but the better we are prepared for it, and plan for it, the more chance we have of coming out the other side in a better position. We see it as a healthy challenge but we are confident we can take it on.
How is your club coping with coronavirus? Are they under threat or will they safely come through intact? Have your say in the comments, or tweet me.
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