Covid’s impact on golf in the North East

Experts from golf clubs and organisations across the region share their thoughts on the post-lockdown surge in demand for golf

Since golf’s return in England on May 13, clubs have seen demand for tee times increase massively with some clubs in England reporting 100% increases in demand. Following the initial phase of reopening, rules have been relaxed, retailers have reopened and clubhouses are welcoming golfers once again. In July, the European Tour returned at Close House while national, regional, county and club events have also returned.

In May, Sports Marketing Surveys’ Rounds Played Monitor reported an average 40% increase in the number of rounds played compared to the same period in 2019. In June, that rose to an average of 70% more rounds completed. Meanwhile, GPS company Shot Scope analysed the activities of 50,000 golfers around the world in July and compared it to data from 2017, 2018 and 2019. It found the UK had experienced the biggest growth in rounds played – up 39.7% while the European average was up 27.9%.

In the North East, both Durham and Northumberland’s county unions are reporting an increase on newly registered members of clubs, and these figures will be finalised when a year-on-year comparison is available in early 2021. 

Durham County Golf Union secretary Jonathan Ward said: “The feedback so far from clubs is very positive. The early mid-year updates we’ve received from a few clubs are very positive, and we’re looking forward to seeing how that plays out in the year-on-year numbers.

“In April we were preparing to see a fall in membership numbers, but we found members were sticking by their clubs in that initial phase of course closures. Many more have since seen the value in membership and joined clubs.

“Clubs have prioritised members, which is fantastic, and many have proven the value in their product by maintaining a healthy green fee rate. We hope to see those numbers sustained in 2021 and beyond.”

A number of clubs are also reporting growth in visitor numbers and membership.

Longhirst Hall Golf Club has increased membership across all categories. Director of golf Graham Chambers said: “The last five months have been a complicated and stressful time with a period of complete closure followed by a highly restricted period of twoballs only, which made it difficult to get the high volume of players who wanted to play out onto the golf courses. Since those guidelines were relaxed, we’ve definitely seen the golf boom at Longhirst.

“The number of visitors has been fantastic with people playing more and many playing for the first time. We’ve committed to valuing our product and we’ve kept our green fees up, which has been a positive step and hasn’t put anyone off playing. We see the value in our golf courses and in golf in general, and we hope to see numbers remain high as people get value for money from their memberships.”

Meanwhile, Tyneside Golf Club has also gone through the many phases of reopening and seen the effects of golf’s surge in popularity since courses were allowed to reopen. General manager Peter Simpson said: “It’s been an incredibly challenging year for businesses of all kinds, including golf clubs. 50 days of course closure and more than 100 days of clubhouse closure was always going to have a huge impact on every club. We’ve gone through many phases, from focussing on securing future viability with the excellent support of our members through to managing a surge in demand post-lockdown. Overnight the value of membership became apparent as many clubs opened for members only. We’ve then seen the demand for golf sustained right through the summer months with near-capacity tee allocations each day, which is fantastic to see. Golf is one of the few industries to have taken some positives from the pandemic and now we must focus on maintaining that positivity, continuing to provide value and a great product to members old and new, and maintaining healthy green fee rates across the industry.”

At Wynyard Golf Club, membership numbers have reached capacity and a waiting list is now in place for prospective members. Wynyard’s director of golf, Chris Mounter, said: “In the early part of the lockdown it was incredibly tough for the whole business. Since golf was allowed to reopen in May, it’s been full tilt. We have certainly seen a big surge in the number of people playing the game, and in people playing more regularly. As more services have been allowed to reopen, those too have been popular, particularly custom fitting and the demand for products in the pro shop. Looking ahead, we’re very optimistic and now is the time to concentrate on providing a great product in order to maintain membership numbers and keep people coming back to golf clubs regularly.”

Retailers were restricted to click and collect and online sales until June, but many of the region’s biggest independent retailers are also positive post-lockdown.

Shaun Cowell, who runs pro shops at South Moor, Hobson and Crook golf clubs, said: “Following the lockdown, golf reopening before other sports was very positive and we saw a big surge in demand. The golf industry as a whole appears very buoyant right now. It will be interesting to see how the surge can be maintained as other industries reopen, but the signs are very positive.”

Post-lockdown life is still far from normal, but participation in golf is up and clubs across the region are thriving. Work is already underway to continue that growth and maintain the momentum generated this year, and Northern Golfer will be part of that work.