Scottish golf courses may still be open as coronavirus bites but that hasn’t stopped a sense of uncertainty, as Ladybank’s general manager Martin Ball explains
Ladybank are open, but just one announcement could change all that. That’s the problem with running a business during a pandemic. Everything is up in the air.
How do you plan in such uncertainty? “It’s very difficult,” concedes Martin Ball, the Fife club’s general manager. “We’re trying to do it month by month. “Obviously, at the moment it’s fairly quiet on green fees but I always base things on when the daffodils come out – then everybody will start coming down to the golf course.
“It’s trying to plan those green fees for March, April and May. I didn’t expect, when all of this began, that we would just drag on.
“We went home on March 23 last year and I thought we’d all be back at our desks by May 1. And it just kept going on and going on. We didn’t really start seeing any big visitor numbers pick up until the middle of August.
“So it’s very hard because you just don’t know from one week to the next what’s going to happen.”
You learn to adjust when the world’s spinning so much. “It’s fantastic to see how flexible your workforce can be,” Ball adds.
“They’re quite happy and open to changes as we’ve gone on. And there are all sorts of things to deal with, mainly around health and safety.
“We had to suddenly stick lines down in the lounge with arrows, have separate doors in and doors out, and completely check the cleaning regime of the whole clubhouse.
“Even when the clubhouses reopen, there will be all sorts (of issues) and we have a re-opening tick list to adhere to.
“It’s quite intense and you’re dealing with stuff you’ve never come across before.”
Amid that uncertainty, Ball is crossing his fingers that Scotland doesn’t find itself thrown into the kind of lockdown experienced by his colleagues south of the border.
Two-ball golf is a challenge when everyone wants to play, and the weather at the start of this year was hardly cooperative.
But at least golfers can play and, with renewals in February, it’s important for Ball that members aren’t stuck at home thinking of other ways to spend their money.
“We were lucky the first time around because the annual subscriptions had already been paid. Then the pandemic hit in March and that affected clubs who didn’t do renewals until April.
“Now, we’ve rationed the members to three games a week, but the one advantage we’ve got is that Ladybank is a heathland so it plays like a links course.
“Once you get a deluge of water on it, it’s drained within about six hours and completely playable.”
Even in these most trying of circumstances, though, there are green shoots. Vaccination holds out the hope we can return to some kind of normality by the summer and Ball has plenty of projects planned for when that transpires.
Ladybank will stage additional Open days to bring in extra revenue and they’ve teamed up with Lundin, Scotscraig and Crail to host a Fife Golf Week, which is scheduled for September.
They’ve also completed a bunker renovation programme – removing an issue that had been a members’ bugbear for years.
He explained: “We used Paul Kimber and Niall Glen. We carried it out over the last two winters and the total cost will be about £250,000.
“Ladybank is a beautiful tree lined heathland golf course. It’s also a completely flat golf course and the biggest rise would be about 10 feet, so we’ve also put some shape in to some of the holes to create mounds and dips around the bunkers.
“The difference is quite substantial and it’s amazing the views you have of it now.”
But the real boost for Ladybank is yet to come when the pandemic is finally out of the picture.
“Our budget for green fees this year is around the £230,000 mark and, because people have carried over from last year, we’ve already got £50,000 of that in the pot.
“So we’re pretty optimistic, providing there isn’t a full-scale lockdown in the summer, that we can do quite well this year.
“Then, obviously, the shot in the arm for the whole of Fife is the Open in St Andrews in 2022.
“There’s a lot of work being done already for that by a lot of golf courses. Our bunker project was meant to take three winters and it was going to finish next winter.
“We dragged it forward and the idea was we’d be ready for July this year (when the 150th Open was due to be held).
“Now that’s been put back to July 2022, everybody’s quite buoyant by the fact that it will be well-needed income – not just for us but the whole of Fife.”
How is your club coping with coronavirus? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.
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