Why pandemic will give golf clubs the chance to ‘redefine themselves’

Lewis Masonin Golf

Golf clubs across England can use the Covid-19 crisis to redefine their vision in a bid to build on the rising numbers visiting courses since the initial nationwide lockdown.

Membership numbers rose at Waterlooville Golf Club after the first nationwide lockdown ended. Picture: Neil Marshall

That's the way Waterlooville Golf Club manager and secretary Mark Wycherley views the future following a rise in players taking up memberships since his site was allowed to re-open in May.

On the whole, sport has not been exempt from the areas of society dealt a damaging blow by the coronavirus outbreak.

But while competitive rugby has still to return since being brought to a halt last March, and parkrun events have remain suspended, golf has experienced a renaissance in popularity since the initial lockdown restrictions were eased.

Lending itself almost ideally to social distancing rules, the sport has seen an upsurge in those deciding to head to their local course across the UK.

Waterlooville membership numbers now exceed 700 having been just a little more than 600 when clubs were permitted to re-open last summer.

Wycherley, who has held his position for five years, has been involved in the sport all his working career, holding various positions.

In recent years, as interest began to drop, he believes clubs had been competing against each other just in a bid to stay afloat and secure much-needed funding.

But 2020 was different, marking the return of the almost forgotten waiting list to join a club and new member numbers rocketing.

'Covid is going to change the way golf is in the future,' said Wycherley.

'I think for the proactive clubs there's an opportunity to redefine themselves and ask questions of what we've been doing - is it what we're going to do coming out of Covid or is it an opportunity to change what we do?'I think for the past 10 or 15 years we've gone through a spell where there are too many clubs, not enough golfers, we're all battling with 15 months for the price of 12 with no joining fee-type offers and fighting for the same business.

'Whereas actually now, the demand has increased and some clubs - not all clubs, because there's a place in the market for all clubs - but it could be an opportunity to say, 'well, we're full, we rely on our members as a source of income so let's give more to them, become more exclusive, less societies, less visitors, to give them a better experience to make it truly a members club again.

"I think there's opportunity to look at it and say, 'what got us here might not get us out through Covid or might not be the right model to take us through to the future."

"Whether it's going back to how we were, or a variation of that or something new, there's opportunity for change. What got us here might not be the right way to get us out - it could be, but it could be an opportunity to change."

For the third time in under a year, the Waterlooville course is currently closed with another nationwide lockdown enforced by the government last week.

The club won't be able to welcome back members until at least mid-February when lockdown restrictions are set to be reviewed.

But that could be subject to change with England Golf putting forward an argument that courses should be allowed to remain open.

Jeremy Tomlinson, CEO of the sport's national association, has ordered a rethink on the decision to shut it down across England.

Wycherley also shares a similar view and says re-opening courses could even prevent overcrowding in public places during the lockdown.

"It's early days but I thought golf and tennis were going to be immune to any future lockdowns, albeit with some restrictions, but that's not the case,"said Wycherley.

"I believe there was a petition that got debated, but right towards the end of the last lockdown, so really what was the point?"

"Whether it'll have an impact or not I don't know. I think we've got to try because all these people that want to go to golf courses but can't will go to public spaces where all the rest of the population will be going."

"But by opening the golf courses you could actually deflect some of those people back to their golf course and keep the public spaces a little bit clearer, possibly, but it's not very scientific."

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