A third of SA’s golf clubs may not survive lockdown – here’s how they hope to open sooner

Business Insider SA
A closed golf course in Australia.
A closed golf course in Australia. (Photo by David Gray/Getty Images)
  • Around a third of South Africa's golf clubs – which include many small-town non-profits – don't expect to make it through lockup for much longer.
  • Industry bodies are now lobbying hard to get golf courses open again during the more relaxed versions of lockup, even though organised sport is very low on the list of priority sectors.
  • Golf is a naturally physically-distant sport, proponents say – and it is good exercise for the slightly older, who are at particular risk of Covid-19.
  • With one-tee starts, and decent intervals between players, clubs believe they can safely operate at level 4 restrictions.
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Somewhere around 140 golf clubs, a third of the total operating in South Africa, may not make it through lockdown for much longer, industry bodies say.

Many have already started to retrench staff, and do not have the resources to cushion the blow of lockdown for associates not employed by the clubs themselves – such as caddies – for much longer.

Now various golfing groups are lobbying hard to get golf courses operational again as soon as level four restrictions kick in, efforts which if successful could make golf the first organised sport to restart in SA.

According to a survey of clubs, only 34% will be able to pay full salaries to staff after a six-week lockdown, the groups GolfRSA, the Professional Golfers Association of South Africa and the Club Management Association of Southern Africa (CMASA) told sports minister Nathi Mthethwa in a letter last week.

"The most distressing indicator from the survey is that 31% of clubs do not believe their clubs will survive a 6-week and longer lock-down period."

Roughly 95% of golf clubs in South Africa are non-profits that "exist from hand to mouth", the chair of the CMASA Chris van der Merwe told Business Insider South Africa, particularly those in small towns.

"They just want to improve facilities, and whatever money comes in goes to facilities," he said. "There is very little in the way or reserves."

Between them those clubs are estimated to employ about 20,000 people permanently, with as many as another 18,000 relying for their income on services to clubs or members. 

Initial data from a new survey still in the field suggests that 12% of permanent employees had already been retrenched, said Van der Merwe.

Draft regulations for the next phase of South Africa's lockdown suggest that individuals may be allowed to do out-of-home exercise, but in strictly solo fashion, with organised sport classed with entertainment and mass gatherings as only to be considered once SARS-CoV-2 is well under control.

Golf: where physical distancing is built in

But golf is by its nature conducive to physical distancing, its governing bodies have argued, and plan to argue again in a meeting with government this week.

"The nature of the game, which is played over an area that is on average 40 hectares, is such that nobody has to be within 5 meters of each other whilst playing," the groups said in their letter to Mthethwa.

"It is internationally recognised as the best recreational activity for persons over the age of 35."

Covid-19 fatalities increase with age and comorbidity.

"If you think of the size of a golf course, an analogy is a rugby field, and at any one time you have four people on that rugby field, that's the size of it," said Van der Merwe.

On top of the measures either recommended or compulsory for other sectors, such as temperature checks and ramped-up cleaning, golf clubs are proposing their own measures to stop the spread of the novel coronavirus if they are allowed to reopen. Those include encouraging walking rather using golf carts, limiting golf carts to one person, and setting minimum times between tee-off, with a one-tee start only, to keep players apart.

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