GolfNow's latest survey shows more courses closing from pandemic

More golf courses are ceasing to operate as they grapple with the COVID-19 outbreak, according to the latest survey done by GolfNow.

In GolfNow's initial March survey, 42% of the courses responding reported they were closed. In the April survey, that number jumped to 62%.

GolfNow is hoping to shed some light on golf courses' most-pressing challenges by revealing results from golf course operator surveys. With the most recent survey concluding on April 15, a total of nearly 1,300 responses were divided among the two questionnaires.

Many of the courses that remain open are hardly operating as normal. A growing numnber has reduced manpower by layoffs and furloughs. In the March GolfNow survey, 24% of respondents reported having laid off at least half their workers. In the April follow-up, that percentage had increased to 39%. Another 12% responding to the April survey said they had furloughed or laid off between one-quarter and one-half of their workforce.

Changes to payment practices are under consideration at many courses, with some operators describing online prepayment as a necessity for doing business. Short-staffing has been commonplace and the need to maintain safety precautions is vital, two factors that favor the “park and play” approach and discourage in-shop payment.

A pair of questions in the April survey revealed that among respondents who remain open for business, 52%  were not accepting cash. The second question asked generally about forms of payment and provided multiple response options. A combined 17% said they had either “changed to online payments only” or “changed to credit card by phone only.”

Six out of 10 said they were still at the golf shop counter, collecting payments and checking golfers in.

Mild winter weather in large parts of the U.S., combined with the lack of other entertainment options, increased early-spring golf activity in some places. The March survey revealed 24% said that rounds played had increased over the same period in 2019. In the April survey, 15% said rounds were even or increased.

When asked in the April survey how long their course could go without green fee revenue during golf season before their business “suffers irreparable damage,” 27% said less than one month, 50% said from one to three months and the remaining 22% said they could go three months or longer.

On that basis, interest in government relief was evident. Almost two-thirds, 63%, said they had visited the SBA.gov website in search of information about CARES Act programs to assist small businesses in distress as a result of COVID-19 disruptions.

Projections and speculation about the country’s transition from the COVID-19 crisis to a gradually more open economy have mentioned golf as an activity more easily restarted than many others. That may be a partial reason for the fairly optimistic outlook that emerges from the April study, which concludes with the question: “What do you expect business levels to be like following the COVID-19 outbreak?”

One in three, exactly 33%, said business would be “about normal.” A spirited 8% said “much better” than before and 22%  said “slightly better” than before. Meanwhile 29% felt it would be “slightly worse” than before the crisis and 9% said “much worse.”

 

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