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How will the coronavirus pandemic impact the visitor golf market?

3.53pm 3rd April 2020 - Opinion

At the time of writing, the length of the restrictions that are in place is still unknown, writes Rob Corcoran, Director, The Revenue Club. However, the shockwaves that have been sent through our society will be felt right across the golf industry regardless of the time we remain in a lockdown situation. Anyone working in this area is looking ahead with a huge amount of uncertainty and surmising their own hypotheses of the possible implications. Here are a few from the perspective of the visitor market.

1 Courses will be very busy when they reopen

In the lead up to the lockdown, there was a week of good weather where there was a huge surge in demand for our courses, indicated by a significant increase in web traffic to booking engines and subsequent green fee sales. If the restrictions are lifted to allow golfers to play again in the summer, the level of pent up demand will be huge. Most big sporting events have been called off, and individuals may choose to steer clear of pubs and restaurants. Golf could fill the social and sporting void that many golfers will have been yearning for over weeks of isolation indoors.

2 The number of your competitors may reduce

One of the issues that is regularly discussed across the industry is the oversupply of golf courses versus the number of participants. The pandemic may intensify this economic situation and clubs with high ground rent and an ageing customer base are likely to suffer the most. It is possible that more vulnerable elderly members may not renew this year, if at all, and they form a vital financial base for many clubs. The virus has hit the UK at the worst possible time for clubs whose renewals are in the Spring and it may be that a large proportion of member golfers will take a year’s sabbatical on their membership, particularly if their own income is uncertain.

3 Member to visitor shift

What’s almost certain is that former members will continue to play, and this may lead to a rise in demand for green fees. Golf clubs could find themselves with more capacity in traditional ‘member times’ and could fill the void by allowing visitors to play at these peak times. This is often a point for debate and would need to be carefully managed in order to keep the committed member base happy, which could be achieved with careful pricing and management of the booking window.

4 Visitor friendly venues will prosper

Golf courses that have a strong focus on welcoming visitors and that market themselves effectively will find themselves in high demand. The shift to online sales will only be accelerated through a continued requirement for social distancing at the point of sale. This will give the upper hand to venues with a strong online presence and slick customer journey to booking a tee time. There is a lot to be said for keeping in touch with the local golfing market during the lockdown to continue to build demand.

5 No golf on the BBC

There are windows of the golfing season when most courses experience an uplift in demand following the major championships that are televised on terrestrial TV. The absence of these this season means that golf clubs will have to work hard to generate that interest themselves through creative marketing that goes far beyond their existing customer base. That said, other sporting events have been cancelled which often provide a distraction for golfers and this could work in the industry’s favour.

6 Requirement for diversification in the off season

If there is a considerable reduction in annual membership renewals, courses will be even quieter in the winter than normal, particularly if there is another challenging period of poor weather. Many courses are reliant on their member base to sustain them in the winter so clubs will have to innovate to ensure they continue to generate revenue through this period.

The pausing of the golf season has offered a unique opportunity for organisations to take stock and look at their business models to ensure they are in a stronger position for the challenges that lie ahead. We are looking at many different ways to support our customer base of 130 clubs to ensure they are in the best possible position to take advantage of the new situation we will find ourselves in in the coming months. It is time for the industry to innovate and adapt, and what better opportunity than right now?

Rob Corcoran, Director at The Revenue Club
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