With the COVID-19 pandemic impacting all areas of society on a global scale, golf clubs have faced huge, uncertain challenges. That has made the role of national federations and associations even more important.
Wales Golf is the national governing body for the sport in Wales with over 42,000 registered golfers across 186 courses. Wales Golf has a staff of 15 individuals, with a turnover of just over £1 million.
During the crisis, the strategy from Wales Golf focused on giving affiliated clubs as much support as possible; initially to survive and then to become stronger. A Q&A with Hannah McAllister, Director of Development at Wales Golf, outlines the work undertaken in this crucial area and how other national bodies could perhaps learn from their experiences.
What action did you initially take when the UK was placed into ‘stay at home’ lockdown in March?
“As part of the UK Government Coronavirus Job Retention scheme, three staff were furloughed (from the Championships and Performance departments due to the cancelation of events and therefore reduced work volume). Furloughed workers across the UK received 80% of their current salary, up to £2,500, from the Government, initially for three months and then extended.
“Several other staff members took a temporary voluntary 20% reduction in salary (including all the Senior Management team). Importantly, it was decided to trial the majority of the Development team working full-time to maintain support to clubs at a critical time. Therefore, Wales Golf was in contact with nearly all its 142 affiliated clubs on a weekly/ fortnightly basis, which started two weeks prior-to the ‘stay at home’ messaging on 23 March.
“All clubs appreciated the support and club engagement went up 95%, with many unengaged clubs working with the development team to build stronger rapports. All clubs also received regular communication and updates.
“During the lockdown, all staff worked from home with meetings taking place either by conference call or video link, with senior staff and development staff meeting via video conference every morning. A full staff meeting took place every Monday morning.”
What specific work took place (and continues to) to support clubs?
“It has been estimated that clubs in Wales experienced (during the eight weeks of ‘stay at home’) a £5.6 million trading loss and saw over 550 staff furloughed. Almost all clubs were eligible for at least one of the various Government grants and the Sport Wales Emergency funding scheme (where applicable). The following dedicated work took place:
- A COVID-19 club survey developed to provide Wales-wide insight and targeted support to suit the needs of each club (86 clubs replied – a 61% return)
- A club COVID-19 update/newsletter twice weekly
- A COVID-19 hub set up on the Wales Golf website with all relevant up to date Government and industry information
- A Mental Health and Wellbeing club webinar – during COVID-19 (27 April)
- World Handicap Seminars – throughout April (68 clubs represented)
- Accessing and applying for relevant Government support schemes and grants (approximately 85% of Welsh clubs had received some grant support by week 6 of ‘stay at home’)
- Accessing the Sport Wales Emergency Resilience Fund – 70 applications from clubs (phase 1 has realised £52,000 in grants for clubs (13) and phase 2, £14,000 for clubs (3)
- Sharing membership retention strategies
- Hosting of committee meetings digitally
- Q&A with Development Officers on social media
- Online Level 2 Rules School (plus additional rules webinars) with participants from all over GB&I
It has been a challenging time for club affiliation fees. How have you handled that?
“Unfortunately, affiliation fees collection coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak in the UK. The Wales Golf board working group quickly came up with a strategy (for the five-month payment due) to defer collection for an additional two months to take any financial pressure off clubs during the ‘stay at home’ phase.
“Forecasting then took place on savings in budgets for 2020/21 to explore the potential of passing on savings to clubs linked to reduced affiliation fee payments. On 22 May, it was announced to clubs that Wales Golf, to support them further, were waiving the five-month affiliation fee. Throughout this period, all staff have been outstanding and have adapted quickly. They are working extremely hard to ensure we and clubs come out of this crisis positively.”
Club supportive message:
Thank you for the update email and for waiving the payment, this will help all Welsh clubs I am sure. On another note, I would like to officially thank everyone at Wales Golf for the support shown to Maesdu throughout the pandemic. I have received many information emails from your team and Dilwyn Griffiths has been in regular contact with me and offered his help and guidance through every single step.
Maesdu Golf Club
How did you plan for the return to golf?
“In mid-April, after the majority of clubs were supported with emergency grant applications, the team quickly moved to support clubs in planning and considering what they needed to have in place for the return to golf in a safe manner. The following support was implemented, which has been well received by clubs:
- Phased return to golf Risk Assessment including one to one support for each club
- Social media campaigns (Back2Golf theme) produced and ready to launch to help clubs in attracting potential new members and encourage golfers back to courses (with the Back2 wording consistent with Wales Golf beginner and newcomer programmes)
- Club Back2Golf promotional tool kit
- Infographics designed to re-emphasise social distancing and safety rules for golfers
- Links to PPE equipment and suitable safety signage suppliers
- Ideas on how to engage with members remotely and with the most vulnerable
- Women in Golf Charter preparation
- Business Support – including business and marketing planning, membership recruitment and retention
- Disclosure and Safeguarding support
- Equality Policy Development
- Communications support include Q&A documents
“The week prior to opening, a Wales Golf guidance document was produced for clubs to collate all the relevant information. This included Government and industry restrictions and guidance, as well as a mapping document against the ‘unlocking the economy government restrictions’ to support clubs with their planning through the various phases.
All documents produced and club updates can be found here: https://www.walesgolf.org/covid-19/
We also supported other sports (through the Welsh Sports Association and Sport Wales) with their preparations for the ‘return of sport’. This ensured we are all working together, capturing learning to ensure maximum safety and a consistent approach in Wales.”
Were you involved in collaborative work for golf’s return?
“Wales Golf was involved in an industry-wide group working on the ‘Safe Re-Opening of Golf in the UK’. A letter to the UK Sports Minister was sent on 29 April along with an advocacy document on the safe re-opening, with similar letters sent to the Welsh Sports Minister.
“This was to show evidence that golf stood ready to deliver for golfers, the wider community and the economy of the UK when the ‘stay at home’ instruction could be lifted.
“The sport outlined a plan to act as one in managing remaining social distancing measures and temporary rules were put in place to ensure the health, wellbeing, and safety of all is paramount. This included the following: Operational Guidelines; Playing Rules Document; Wales Golf template Risk Assessment.
“After direct liaison with the Welsh Government, it was formally announced on 12 May that clubs in Wales could re-open safely from 18 May. The announcement followed updated guidance from the Welsh Government that some golf clubs could re-open in Wales for local members. Clubs in England could re-open from 13 May.
“However, we urged courses not to all re-open immediately, in order to ensure they had sufficient protocols in place to adhere to guidelines and to allow for a managed and coordinated reintroduction of golf across Wales.
“We communicated to all member clubs and golfers to comply with the regulations in a responsible manner to avoid the Welsh Government introducing measures to close courses again.”
Overall, through the various challenges, what direct reaction did you receive from clubs?
“We received a number of positive messages from clubs, including via email and on social media. We also surveyed clubs on our support (e.g. after week one of ‘stay at home’) with our website homepage and Development Officer correspondence highlighted as among the most useful updates.”
Direct supportive quotes from clubs:
The support material issued by the respective ‘bodies’ has been excellent – especially Wales Golf. It is especially helpful during the current times of isolation to realise that everyone else is in the same position and that life can still continue in some form of normality.
Pyle and Kenfig Golf Club
It is encouraging that you are able to give us such support so that when we can get back playing we will be doing so consistently.
Cardiff Golf Club
Just a quick e-mail to say what an awesome risk assessment document you put together. Theo (Baker) talked me through it and sent it over last week. Very extensive. Your all doing a great job. The communication, updates and help is second to none.
Langland Bay Golf Club
Thank you Simon Lu (WalesGolf) for your assistance last night in setting up our first Virtual Committee Meeting for Bargoed GC. Enabled us to start preparing our Action Plan for re-opening when the restrictions are lifted #staysafe
Bargoed Golf Club
How did golf’s immediate return go?
“After the second day of Back2Golf in Wales, the clubs were relieved and finding it easy to manage, with their routines and procedures in place. There were several Police visits and Environmental Health visits which to date have gone well.
Clubs have already received many membership enquires and some clubs are offering short and medium-term memberships to maximise cash flow. For example, South Pembrokeshire Golf Club have taken on nearly 40 new members and have 30 new golfers on the list wanting to take part in Wales Golf’s New2Golf programme when it is up and running. Many golfers who were reluctant to renew their membership with clubs due to COVID–19 and value for money are now starting to renew.”
St Melyd Golf Club on golf’s return:
“After opening for the first time in eight weeks, tee times started at 6am and the first member teed it up at 6.20am. When asked how he felt he said ‘it’s so great to be back playing golf’. It was a momentous and historical moment. Golfers started coming through every 10 minutes. Every single one of them looked so happy to be back playing golf.
“All the safe social distancing guidelines were taken very seriously and we encountered no problems whatsoever. One of our juniors said he did not sleep at all last night as he was so excited about the thought of playing golf. Isn’t that lovely?
“What was heartening to hear was the positivity from many walker s who use the walkways on and around the course, they were thrilled to see the course back in play and some said seeing golfers made them feel the country is moving towards some normality. Another positive occurrence is we have acquired a few new members and have received application forms for processing.
“On behalf of St Melyd, we thank everyone at Wales Golf for all their support, advice and guidance. This has been invaluable in many ways. Due to your dedication to golf in Wales our course is open and we have safe procedures in place to safeguard any golfer who plays the course.”