The golf industry across Asia is facing varied challenges that are being presented by the Coronavirus outbreak.
“If you take a look at the economics of a lot of golf clubs around Asia, especially resort courses, I’m afraid the effects of the virus are starting to bite,” said Eric Lynge, the Asian Golf Industry Federation’s Chief Executive Officer.
Speaking to MONEY FM 89.3, Singapore’s only Business and Personal Finance radio station, Lynge outlined how COVID-19 is affecting the golf industry and how golf clubs are being forced to adapt to the new reality.
He said: “A lot of courses are already hurting. For those that rely on visitor play, it’s a pretty immediate bite. It depends on ownership reserves and the rates that they’re getting for the visitor play to start. Some of the courses are operating on pretty low margins already.
“There are much more serious situations in the world right now, but it is pretty dire for these particular golf courses. In these challenging times, it’s imperative that many facilities take stock and focus on best practices within the industry. Professional turf and club management will be tested during this period and sharing information will be vital.”
While Singapore has had an uptake in golf, clubs in most parts of the region have been suffering following steep declines in the number of rounds brought on by travel bans and government-ordered course closures in some countries.
Lynge said: “A lot of business travellers and people who play regularly in places such as Johor, Bintan and Batam have not been able to get there. The impact in Singapore is that most of the courses are full up during the weekdays and weekends as well. Golfers here have retreated to what they view as the safety of the golf course.
“But globally it’s having a very different impact. In Malaysia, they’ve closed all golf courses because they’re deemed to be part of sport. In the Philippines they’ve closed all golf courses in Luzon. Parts of Thailand have been closed down. In Vietnam and India they’ve closed golf courses electively.
“Koreans are flocking to their courses domestically, but with the travel bans, resort courses all over Southeast Asia who relied upon them as the major segment of travelling golfers could not tap into them for the last six weeks, even when they were still open for play.”
Staff at an increasing number of clubs are also in a precarious position. Lynge said: “Golf is a very large industry that employs a lot of people – greenkeepers, ground staff, clubhouse staff and caddies among them. A recent survey by the Singapore Golf Association and The R&A found that golf is an US$238 million industry that supports more than 2,500 people. That’s just Singapore. If you extrapolate those figures to more labour-intensive countries, it’s clear that golf has a substantial impact on economies. Golf is also a major contributor to charities. COVID-19 will have a huge impact on this.”
Private clubs in Malaysia and the Philippines have already set up funds for their caddies who rely upon their fees and tips for their livelihood.
Lynge said: “It hasn’t yet reached that level of how are we going to compensate grounds staff and clubhouse staff who work at golf courses. But it’s something the private clubs can address by upping monthly dues for a period of time or setting up special funds. Resort courses, however, do not have these options.
“All clubs have to keep course maintenance going and use practices that are COVID-19 safe. In order to operate a golf course, you can’t just let the grass grow.
“Some clubs are now having to operate with a skeleton staff. That’s a tremendous challenge. A golf course is not like a tennis court or an auditorium which you can leave free.”