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INDIGO INSIDER: As Golf Has Reopened, the Cabin Fever Experienced from Sheltering in Place has Been a Welcomed Side Effect for Golf Courses

As courses reopen and operate with varying governmental restrictions, the golf industry organizations have collaborated to create operational guidelines via the “Back2Golf” initiative.

Dear Friend,

As golf as reopened in all but three states, cabin fever experienced from sheltering in place has been a welcomed side effect for golf courses - maybe the only one. A few thoughts and observations are highlighted below that might prove useful in the near term.

Best Practices
As courses reopen and operate with varying governmental restrictions, the golf industry organizations have collaborated to create operational guidelines via the "Back2Golf" initiative. It is critical to share best practices with all golf courses as we all must do our part to balance the flattening of the curve and returning to a semblance of business normalcy. In the unlikely event that you do not have a best practices playbook for operations during this pandemic - we suggest visiting the National Golf Course Owners' Association's "Park and Play Program" which provides protocols for open golf courses.

Incidentally, training your gest at the course level on the new normal is not easy as habits are hard to break - appropriate and clear signage/directions is highly underrated. Lastly, create a script and FAQ for team members to deal with unhappy golfers that are unaware of local and state governmental edits that dictate F&B offerings, restroom availability, single rider carts, etc. during this time. To this end, we agree with the sentiment in a recent Golf Digest article titled, "Hey golfers, let's not screw this up."

Ride the Wave
Owners and managers nationwide are experiencing a new normal with revised operations during this pandemic. Frankly. it will be interesting to see the number of permanent changes to future operations due to COVID-19, which could include the following:

  • Online prepayment of green fees: with some states mandating contactless payment, technology providers are working tirelessly to create solutions. Systems were initially designed to accept one or two pre-paid tee times per day at a set rate, and now must service hundreds of players at variable prices. Add the need for mobile pay of merchandise and F&B items and many POS developers are working overtime.
  • More walking as opposed to riding: with the limit of one rider per cart, will more golfers prefer to walk? The new rules have noticeably improved pace of play, despite the increase of walking.
  • Charging a flat rate per tee time regardless of the number of players: will people pay a premium to ensure not being paired with another? Most golfers did not enjoy being paired to begin with, let alone during COVID-19.
  • Work mentality: there is no more being a superhero and working when sick - now you are a pariah.
  • Golf Shop Obsolescence: what is essential for your guests and the desired experience? With the exponential increase of online payment for your round of golf, will the pro shop be revised to self-serve kiosks and the ability to check-in with a starter that oversees the first tee and carts?

Labor Model
Emotional Intelligence has perhaps never been a more coveted trait for managers as we restart our economy from the Great Repression and get back to the new normal. Team member reactions will run the gamut from invincibility and minimization of COVID-19's effects to a martial law mentality of sheltering-in-place, not atypical from the various States' reactions. All reactions are appropriate, and many managers must navigate the differing perspectives of their team members.

Furthermore, the much-needed stimulus package has had some unintended consequences, especially for small businesses. Restrictions and eligibility of the PPP program are being refined and worked through after the initial roll-out; however, increased unemployment benefits have exacerbated a difficult labor market and unintentionally created a situation in which staffing with a skeleton crew will continue for some time.

Prior to COVID-19, the majority of golf facilities felt the impacts of a difficult labor market marked by low unemployment and increasing labor costs. Without a vaccine, the candidate pool will further shrink post COVID-19. Many golf courses will be forced to further prioritize and assess the customer experience, technology and guest touchpoints in order to do more with less.

If this resonates as you plan for your weeks and months ahead, feel free to reach out directly as each situation is unique. We wish everyone good health as always, but especially during this crisis.

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About the Author
With 30 years’ experience in golf, Mike oversees Indigo Golf Partners growth plans and specific lease, acquisition, consulting and third-party management opportunities. He enjoys an invaluable talent of dissecting ways golf courses, country clubs and resorts can create significant new revenue and save expenses without compromise to quality. Previously, Mike managed the company’s vast southeast portfolio. A PGA member, he is a graduate of Mississippi State University, an avid cyclist and diehard college football fan.