Golf & Clubs in the Time of Coronavirus

Last evening, my son Jack and I attended the NBA game between the Detroit Pistons and Philadelphia 76ers.  Walking to the car post game, he informed me through his cell phone alert that we had just seen the final game of the NBA season due to an NBA player testing positive for COVID-19.  After some thought, I later posted the following questions on Facebook:

I can’t help but wonder how COVID-19 will change life in our society long term? Will even more people work from home? Will people avoid large crowds? What will become of major spectator sports if there are no spectators? Will office and retail real estate decline in value and demand due to working from home and even more online shopping if people avoid crowds? Will people patronize restaurants and bars? Will there be a fear of staying in hotels? What will be both short term and long term impacts on the economy at large and our businesses and jobs?

All these things are happening short term. Will the fears persist after the Coronavirus threat passes?

I received some interesting comments.  Here are just a few:

  • The economy – particularly tourist, entertainment and sports economy – will crash big time. That will bring down hotels, restaurants and all the supportive industries as well. Trump said the pandemic was just a hoax and delayed testing until it spread throughout the country. South Korea does 15,000 tests a week in free drive-thru clinics and has tested over 600,000 people. That allowed them to know exactly where and how the virus was spreading and to mitigate it. 
  • Good questions. Will be interesting what schools and work places find after the work/learn from home; possible savings, etc. Then the possible loss of jobs, etc. On another note, we had a member call today and said his doctor told him to stay 6 ft from others as he is high risk COPD etc. He asked if he could have a cart to himself. We agreed to do so at no charge as long as it’s short term. Then we began to ask ourselves the same questions you asked. Will this be the new norm? How many others will be asking for the same? Foursomes with 4 carts? Going to be an interesting ride…
  • Coronavirus will be harder to develop a vaccine for and is more contagious but it will eventually pass. Remember how no one wanted to live downtown (NYC) after 9/11? The area is now more developed and vibrant than ever. Not that people will ever forget that day but we are ultimately resilient and adaptable. There was already a trend towards people going out less. I think that is sad but perhaps I am showing my age! Probably more people will work from home and more social isolation but not necessarily because of disease.

Of course, eventually my thoughts turned to how golf courses and clubs will deal with this and the impact on value.  A prior post defying the Coronavirus and attending the basketball game, and touting “social distancing” brought this intriguing response from a golf course owner:  Social distancing. This should be a boom for the golf courses.

One can only hope that the golf industry will benefit from its inherent characteristics of being outdoors, in space and with limited physical contact.  It would certainly seem as though spectating at golf events would be impacted due to the close quarters and constant movement and contact spectators have with one another.  These (possible) fundamentals, however are impacted in no small way by the pandemic’s effect on the economy.

The Dow Jones Industrial Average has dropped more than 20% from its historical highs and is now considered officially a “Bear” market.  We don’t know if or how long it will take for a recovery.  Will golf participation and club membership decline as a result?  The important thing at this point, while so much is still unknown is to be prepared.

Just yesterday, one golf pro I spoke with mentioned that his club leadership had discussed recession planning and that they could withstand a drop of 150 members and still cash flow.  That would be a very unusual situation, but every club should be thinking “what if”?  Preparation, having a plan with multiple contingencies would be prudent advice.  What can your club or course do?

Some impulsive thoughts include:

  • Having hand sanitizer and disinfecting wipes available around the property and make sure that carts and other areas are cleaned frequently;
  • Cleaning flagsticks (which are handled by many);
  • Encouraging players to putt with the flagstick in the hole and using one of the many devices to retrieve one’s ball that avoid use of hands;
  • Encourage players to walk the course, avoiding the additional contact and exposure that comes with golf carts (social distancing);
  • Market and publicize the sanitized nature of your club or course;
  • Screen players for symptoms to avoid infection as much as possible and maintain a safe environment;
  • Avoid offering certain services which include contact, such as club cleaning, exchanging cash and food handling;
  • Close the 19th hole/grille in favor of a more protected food service option;
  • Frequent cleaning and sanitizing of bathrooms and locker areas;
  • Ask golfers to avoid spitting;
  • No post round handshake

If the economic turmoil of recent weeks lasts, it will have a negative impact on golf.  With reduced wealth, fewer will join clubs, take golf trips or play that extra round.  If the economic impact includes significant job losses, less people will be able to play and there will be a further decline in rounds and more golf courses could find distress.

Now is a critical time for our industry.  A new season is just beginning in most areas of the country.  If we don’t react intelligently, aggressively and quickly, the impact of the combination of the Coronavirus pandemic and the economic conditions could make the Great Recession or a bad weather year with rainy weekends seem easier than a short par 5 with no hazards.  Don’t hesitate to seek help.  Prevention is the best cure.