Simon Olver on managing a golf course during Covid-19
It has been a year unlike any other, including out on the golf course.
In springtime, as greenkeeping teams around the country prepared for the season, we became increasingly aware of the Covid-19 pandemic as every TV channel was taken over by it. Then came the lockdown and the closure of all golf courses. This unprecedented situation left clubs with zero income, staff members across every department worried for their futures, and golf courses continuing to grow while the country stayed at home. Some tough decisions were required to ensure businesses had the best chance to survive financially and golf courses remained in a position to reopen once they were allowed to. Doing nothing was simply not an option.
Thankfully, the government’s furlough scheme protected jobs while skeleton crews of greenkeepers were allowed to preventatively manage areas so they were not lost to nature. In some cases, clubs left just one member of staff to maintain an entire golf course while greenkeepers were told they must only work on essential areas, leaving areas such as bunkers, ditches, paths and even areas of rough to nature – an unbelievable but unavoidable situation which further highlighted the skill and dedication of greenkeepers all over the UK.
Maintaining the course during lockdown was a very strange feeling. During my drive to work, the streets were deserted. Some days I wouldn’t see a single person for 10 hours while out on the course. Greenkeepers across the UK had to deal with the lack of companionship and the mental health issues that can highlight, with many turning to social media to stay connected while my dog Halo became an essential team member, mainly having to patiently listen to my moaning.
As golf clubs reopened and golfers returned, it became clear this phase would be the toughest yet. Many greenkeepers remained furloughed while golf courses needed to be presented for play after weeks of only essential maintenance. This pushed teams to their limits with many passionate greenkeepers working long, sometimes unpaid, hours to ensure their courses were in the best condition possible.
It has been amazing to see the demand for golf grow so much this summer. Everyone involved in the industry deserves credit for their tireless work to provide a safe environment for golfers and staff. Everywhere you look, clubs are bustling as participation booms, but we must remain grounded as we look ahead to 2021.
If golf is your sport of choice, there has never been a more crucial time to support your golf club. Every penny which is spent, membership which is continued, or hour which is volunteered will help to secure the game we all love and the jobs of the teams who prepare your course and host you before and after your rounds. Together we will all get through this.