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How The Golf Industry’s Been Affected By Covid In 2020

We spoke with some greenkeepers and asked them what impact has Covid had on the UK’s golf industry in 2020?

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Looking back on 2020

No one could have prepared for what we have experienced this year. But for greenkeepers, Covid-19 has certainly put a spanner in the works when it comes to managing and maintaining their courses.

Greenkeepers pride themselves on having top notch courses all year round, but Covid19 restrictions meant only essential maintenance was allowed. Along with the ambiguity around what constitutes ‘essential maintenance’, many greenkeepers ended up on furlough meaning planned maintenance was pushed down the ‘to do’ list.

Lockdown not only meant that the planned work couldn’t happen, but it also had a significant economic impact on many courses.

Once golfers could return there was a massive influx in numbers. Golf courses were so busy, greenkeepers had little time for additional maintenance and had to prioritise getting the essential work done in the mornings, before the course opened for golfers.

Overall, 2020 has being a very challenging year for golf, but it has been great to see such an appetite for the sport when it’s been permitted, even though it has put greenkeepers under huge pressure.

We talked to two greenkeepers to get their take on the 2020 season.

How have greenkeepers faired in 2020?

Eoghan Buckley, Golf Course Superintendent at Birr Golf Club and part time turf grass lecturer at the Technological University of Dublin

Eoghan Buckley

Eoghan explains that 2020 has been a challenging year for the golf industry from both a management and economic point of view.

“We closed on the 1st April, with a lot of uncertainty. We didn’t know if we would be able to continue to work, so we tried to leave the course in the best condition possible,” he says.

“It’s been very hard to plan this year, we’ve undertaken essential tasks, such as aeration and spraying but when we opened after the first lockdown we were very behind on maintenance.

“It was near impossible to catch up as we normally see around 30 people a day, but in the summer, we were having between three and four times this many. This made it very difficult for our team to get the course back into top condition,” says Eoghan.

“Due to reduced budgets, we had to cut out two fungicide applications in the middle of the summer when the course was closed. In terms of disease, we did see some anthracnose, but we managed to keep it at bay.”

Eoghan said with all the uncertainty during 2020, motivation has been one of the biggest challenges for him and his team.

“It’s very difficult to keep people motivated when you're struggling to stay upbeat yourself. We are hopeful things will return to some kind of normality in 2021,” he adds.

Oliver Durham, Greenkeeper at Normanton Golf Club

Oliver Durham

“2020 and Covid19 have posed many challenges for us as greenkeepers,” says Oliver.

He explains they are behind on maintenance and have struggled to keep the courses in top notch condition.

“In the first lockdown, our course went from six members of staff to three and only essential maintenance was undertaken.

“Because the course was shut when we would usually have a high number of players on the course, we initially saw less damage to the course. However, when the course reopened, we saw around 150-200 golfers a day in the week and around 250 a day at weekends. That’s three-times the normal footfall.

“This huge surge in numbers had the opposite effect on the quality of the course and we saw a lot of wear and tear. It was also difficult to keep on top of maintenance with the course being so busy,” says Oliver.

“In terms of disease, we didn’t see much early on as there wasn’t a lot of traffic on the course, but we’ve started to see more now. The weather conditions have been ideal for disease this year as it’s been damp and mild.

“Because our team have recently been on furlough again, we’ve had reduced manpower, so we’ve been concentrating on keeping the dew off the greens to try and keep disease at bay.

“Economically our course has been significantly affected by Covid19. As well as golf, we also hold weddings and conferences on site, which is another large source of income that we’ve been without. However, we’ve been fortunate, as many courses around us have had to shut for good.

“None of us want to see a year like this again,” adds Oliver.

Timothy Peeling, Bayer product manager

Tim Peeling

“In spite of the challenges that 2020 has presented, greenkeepers up and down the country have used their resilience and expertise to manage the issues caused by the Covid-19 pandemic and achieve the best possible playing surfaces within the confines of the permitted essential maintenance.

“One positive is that golf has been recognised at government level for helping to improve mental health, and therefore has also been one of the first sports to open after both lockdowns. In addition, the increased footfall that has been seen across courses when they have been open has been positive, and hopefully this will continue to increase throughout 2021.”