Published by : Stuart McLean - 28 April 2020

GolfRSA is making every effort to ensure that golf courses reopen as soon as possible during the lockdown process.

The Minister of Sport is due to meet on Thursday, April 30 with representatives from GolfRSA, the PGA of SA, and Club Management Association to discuss when golf clubs might be allowed to resume operating. GolfRSA CEO Grant Hepburn last week wrote to the Minister making golf’s case for an early release from the lockdown, to avert some of the impact of the closure on golf club employees.

Hepburn says that if the status quo continues much longer, by the middle of May there could be wholesale retrenchment of staff by more than a third of clubs, following a survey by the Club Management Association.

GolfRSA president Naadir Agherdien, centre, with Board Chairman Johann Rupert, left, and CEO Grant Hepburn.

Hopefully sense will prevail at government level when you consider the tens of thousands in the golf industry alone whose livelihoods will be affected by extensions to the ban on exercise. Other countries have been quick to sanction people again playing golf, a sport where social distancing can easily be practised. In Japan, golf courses never closed at all.

When golfers do return to their clubs they will generally find the courses in a pristine condition they have seldom experienced before, thanks to skeleton staff who have been caring for them. It’s a good time to be a member of a club, because they are going to receive priority when it comes to tee times. And the courses will be busy with golfers eager to make up for all the rounds they have missed.

Many golf clubs had opened up online tee sheets in anticipation for a return to golf on Saturday, May 2, and every time was gone within minutes.

We will be like those northern hemisphere countries – Canada, the United States and Sweden – where golf courses come out of hibernation after a winter under snow and ice, and golfers begin literally queuing up to play on opening day.

Divot-free fairways will resemble carpets, and greens should be outstanding if slow to begin with. Cutting heights have been raised during this time.

Divot-free tees await golfers when courses reopen.

This has been a rare opportunity for South African courses, usually open for all but a few days a year, to have some downtime, particularly from the relentless passage of golf carts, which cause considerable compaction damage to sensitive areas. Courses with high volumes of traffic will benefit the most from the break.

Maintenance of courses during the lockdown has been handled by small teams of key staff.

The Fancourt resort in George was allowed to retain only 15 percent of their maintenance team, which means they had 17 employees looking after three courses.

“The core team consists of our most qualified staff, the resort superintendent, head greenkeepers, team leaders and, most importantly, our irrigation technician,” said Ryan Reid, Fancourt Director of Sports and Recreation. “The other staff members are multi-tasking and driving all the machinery. Greens and tees are being mown every second day, and the cutting heights raised to prevent disease. Fairways, green surrounds and rough are cut every three to four days. We’re only allowed essential maintenance, so cannot do any work on the gardens, or hollow-tining the greens.”

Staff have to be on site 24/7, so are staying in hotel rooms with their families, and being fed in the Fancourt canteen.

The Arabella resort near Hermanus closed their course three days prior to the lockdown so they could immediately begin their autumn cultural practices with a full staff complement. “We couldn’t afford to skip them or wait until after lockdown,” said Arabella Director of Golf Mike Munro. “Delaying would have risked unfavourable climatic conditions and an extended period of closure.”

Arabella have eight staff working a 5-day week, mowing the greens every day, the fairways and tees twice a week. “A key responsibility is to ensure all irrigation systems are functioning correctly,” said Munro. “With cooler temperatures we are able to irrigate far less and have only been giving the greens top-ups to keep them healthy. Bunkers are kept weed-free and edging is done, but they are not being raked.

“The positive is that the course will benefit from no traffic, particularly the compacted areas. But we are now keen to open up again, and offer a safe and enjoyable experience in accordance with whatever is required.”

An unlikely husband-and-wife combination is helping keep the golf course mown at Plettenberg Bay Country Club.

Manager Greg Phillips has been assisting the maintenance staff by operating a ride-on mower to mow the first-cut and semi-rough on the course. And helping Greg complete the task has been his wife Darell on another machine.

“Our five essential workers are only allowed to work 3½ hours a day because of travel restrictions,” said Greg. “They mow the greens and fairways, and then Darell and I pitch in by keeping the rough mown.”


GolfRSA have launched a R1-million relief initiative aimed at helping caddies and casual workers at golf facilities. CEO Grant Hepburn said that with so many golf clubs struggling for survival it was necessary to initiate a compensation fund.

Caddies will benefit from a R1-million Relief Fund initiative by GolfRSA.

“We applaud the clubs and organisations in the golf industry that have already implemented schemes to assist employees and casual workers,” said Hepburn. “More than R5-million has been raised. This extra R1-million is drawn from our savings pool. The money comes from cancelled national events and the voluntary pay reduction that GolfRSA staff and service providers have taken.”

GolfRSA Chairman of the Board Johann Rupert commended the industry for its various initiatives. “It has come together in remarkable ways to sustain and preserve our courses and ensure the welfare of golfers and industry employees,” he said. “I applaud GolfRSA on their attempt to ensure no-one falls through the cracks.”

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