Published by : Ryan Dodds - 14 May 2020

The golf industry will need to adapt to a new and different environment when the game resumes in Southern Africa after this pandemic.

Ryan Dodds, a Fellow Member of the PGA of South Africa, is Head of Golf Management and Projects for the VLH Group in Mauritius. A 15-year golf industry veteran – in teaching, club management and golf estate development – he is involved with three golf products in Mauritius. This includes the new La Reserve course under construction at Heritage Golf Club, and project management of the AfrAsia Bank Mauritius Open.

With global GDP shrinking by unprecedented levels, the demand for luxury goods will likely follow suit. I have always included golf in this basket although the demand is possibly less elastic than with other luxuries.

Many will lose their jobs or face pay cuts, resulting in a global fall in discretionary spending, which equals fewer rounds of golf, declining memberships, and the possibility of golf course closures.

A market correction in the golf industry is overdue. For too long we built estate courses with scant regard for the economic feasibility of these facilities outside the residential context. These newer shinier courses, with maintenance budgets subsidised by home owners, put pressure on older facilities, causing memberships to fall and a few courses to close.

Progress is good and well if market correction occurs efficiently and markets move towards a state of equilibrium, but golf clubs are unlike other businesses. They come with personal and sentimental ties beyond the realms of prudent business practice, with members often doing whatever it takes to ensure their course does not close. This has resulted in an industry where few clubs continue to make money due to the global over supply.

So, with less revenue expected in an industry already under pressure going into the crisis, how do we manage our costs effectively to keep the proverbial wolf away from the club gates?

American course architect Tom Doak, in his book The Anatomy of a Golf Course, suggests an alternative that I believe is worthy of consideration in these times.

“If golfers accepted somewhat lower standards for fairway turf, the chemically maintained area of the course could be decreased by as much as 90 percent,” writes Doak. “Reduced chemical use would not only curtail public apprehension, it would lower the cost of playing the game – and perhaps encourage a higher percentage of the population to become devotees of golf, who would be more sympathetic to the needs of the game. The sport of golf can and will survive more flexible standards of course maintenance; it might even become stronger. The vanity of eye-appealing green turf is all that has to be sacrificed.”

A high standard of maintenance has become par at many courses.

In the updated Rules of Golf, the wording ‘’through the green’’ has been erased. This used to refer to the whole area of the course excluding the putting surface, teeing ground and hazards. There was no distinction between fairway and rough because there was a time when it was difficult to define what was fairway and what was rough.

In that earlier era, bunkers also weren’t raked, greens had a mix of grasses (as many of the classic courses do today), lies were varied ‘’through the green,’’ and greens complexes allowed approach shots from a variety of lies. The last point here is the most important when considering how fairways are to be maintained. Has your course architect allowed for this? Or are the greens surrounded by hazards which do not allow for a run-up shot under the presumption that a player would always be hitting from a perfectly manicured surface?

I maintain that few complaints are received when tee boxes are level and greens and greens complexes well-maintained. Tees need not be in perfect condition because we tee up the golf ball. So what I am positing in this piece is that we as golfers need to lower our expectations, allow courses to be maintained at a whisker less than spectacular all year round, play golf as it was intended, and accept the occasional bad lie.

If we lower expectations we can lower maintenance costs. This could help make the game more affordable, encourage more rounds, and allow more clubs to survive!

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