Playing Golf Is the Passion of Many Business People


Playing golf is the passion of many businesspeople, so I was delighted to hear of the reduction of some of the regulations relating to the Covid 19 Pandemic. I picked up this tasty morsel from the weekend edition of the FT and thought it appropriate for weekend reading in our downtime from trading.

Golf emerges from UK lockdown seeking new interest in ancient game Rule changes allows socially distanced play to begin in England, but clubs face financial challenges.

The rules of golf, first drafted in 1744 by the Gentlemen Golfers of Leith in Scotland, have been steadily revised over centuries to reflect the changing times. Recent revisions prepare players for a post-coronavirus world; do not touch the flagpole, remain two meters apart at all times, and no “19th hole” social gatherings at the clubhouse. The new guidelines, created by the R & A, the sport’s governing body outside the US and Mexico, are designed to allow for safe play after the UK government eased lockdown restrictions in England this week, allowing for the resumption of some outdoor activities, including golf, angling, and tennis.

As a non-contact sport, played in a huge expanse of open ground, golf lends itself to being modified a bit to reinforce the vitally important messages around social distancing, said David Rickman, executive director of governance at the R & A, which is headquartered in St Andrews, Scotland. We are in a fortunate position. The return to play provides a path for financial recovery for an industry worth an estimated £4bn in annual spending by British golfers. About 3,000 clubs across the UK have been shuttered for weeks. Many were already suffering from steady declines in membership over the past decade, as the game struggled to reach beyond its core demographic of older, affluent men. Golf executives believe the coming weeks could provide an unexpected opportunity: with the opening up of clubs early in the lockdown exit process convincing some to take up the sport and others to return to the fairways. It is definitely an opportunity for golf clubs to promote the benefits of the game, said Richard Flint, participation and club support director at England Golf, the national governing body. As we move into the summer, and fingers crossed, the weather will continue to be nice, there is a chance to promote our sport. Despite the Westminster government’s decision to ease lockdown restrictions, devolved administrations in Scotland, Wales, and Northern Ireland have maintained tighter controls, which means courses remain closed in those home nations. However, England Golf believes the majority of its 1,800 affiliated clubs were ready to resume play this week. There are a lot of happy people out there, all talking note of the procedures we have in place and taking in their exercise, said Gary Pearce, managing secretary of Ganton Golf Club in North Yorkshire, which reopened on Wednesday. Like most courses, we had to maintain courses during the lockdown. Business stopped, but the grass does not stop growing.

Quiet lobbying by the golfing industry over recent weeks helped to ensure that the UK government’s 51-page document released on Monday, which detailed how the lockdown would be eased, allowed for “exercise with one person from outside your household”. Two members touch clubs at the end of their round as a substitute for shaking hands. This has paved the way for matches between pairs of players. However, other rules have been adopted to help prevent transmission of Covid-19. Tee times — when players start their rounds — are being staggered so at least 10 minutes pass before other golfers can begin. Rakes in bunkers have been removed, with players encouraged to use their clubs or feet to brush over the sand after shots. Economic challenges remain.

While many clubs have taken the government-backed scheme to furlough staff during the crisis, the inability to reopen indoor clubhouses means they will not be able to make money from food and beverage sales. About 40 percent of English clubs had annual membership fees due to be paid on April 1 — just after the UK lockdown was imposed — leading some to defer or cancel their memberships this year.

Unlike in the US, where elite professional tournaments are set to restart next month, in the UK and elsewhere in Europe they are unlikely to return for weeks partly due to the need for golfers to travel from across the world to participate. Memberships in England have steadily declined from a peak of 846,000 in 2006, although there had been a slight recovery last year to 637,000 — up from 629,000 in 2018. Last year’s uptick has been credited to recent initiatives designed to bring new audiences to the game, such as allowing for cheaper pay-as-you-play memberships, shorter rounds, and installing driving ranges. These moves better cater to the preferences of younger players and families, reluctant to spend several hours playing a traditional 18-hole round. The R & A has pledged to spend £200m over the next decade to develop golf worldwide, including £80m dedicated to creating and promoting women’s, girls, and mixed events. These efforts are expected to continue despite the financial crisis caused by the pandemic.

The Open, one of the four annual golf “majors”, which makes up the vast majority of the R & A’s annual revenues of about £90m, has been abandoned this year. But the organisation said it had pandemic insurance, which means it can recoup the cost of canceling what is the UK’s biggest golf tournament. We are unashamedly favored towards golf for all sorts of reasons, not just because it is our sport and our business, said Mr Rickman from the R & A. We believe it can be part of the solution in these difficult times. It has real proven benefits in terms of physical fitness and mental health, giving people something to do and look forward to.

Neil G Van Luven

President of The Crude Oil Investment Club and passionate golfer.