Cape Wickham Golf Links on King Island, Tasmania, has become one of the first major Australian golf clubs to feel the full impact of the coronavirus crisis. Course superintendent John Geary reports that he was forced to lay off a dozen seasonal staff across the facility yesterday following the announcement by Tasmanian Premier Peter Gutwein that the state was going into lockdown.
From midnight Friday, all ‘non-essential’ travellers into Tasmania will have to go into 14 days’ quarantine under the state government’s new border restrictions, effectively forcing the likes of Cape Wickham and neighbouring course Ocean Dunes into a temporary closure of sorts. While Cape Wickham will remain open for play for local King Islanders, the decision to close Tasmanian borders means all interstate and overseas bookings, which the facility relies primarily on, have been impacted going forward.
“We are effectively shutting the gates as of tomorrow (Saturday),” says Geary, a life member of the VGCSA. “We had a meeting scheduled at 10am yesterday (Thursday) to talk about the coronavirus and the impact on staff and operations here. But at 9.30am the Tasmanian Premier made his announcement to shut the borders which effectively stops all interstate and international visitors coming into Tasmania. Everything changed dramatically within 30 minutes – from looking at what measures we could take to keep the place open, we have had to tell staff there will be no more work for them.”
A total of 12 seasonal staff – among them chefs, front of house staff, housekeeping staff and one course maintenance employee from Norway – have been laid off. Cape Wickham relies on seasonal staff who are generally employed for the six months from the start of November through to the end of April. Geary was due to have a phone hook up with the facility’s Vietnam-based owners this morning to see what the plan was for him and other four full-time employees, three of which work on the course maintenance crew.
The decision to effectively close the gates comes at the worst possible time for Cape Wickham. Following a lot of recent positive publicity about the course, including its jump to No.2 behind Royal Melbourne’s West Course in both Golf Australia magazine’s and Australian Golf Digest’s Top 100 Australian Courses rankings list, rounds and accommodation bookings this past summer and through to May have been extremely solid.
“A week ago we were flat out and doing some ridiculous hours,” says Geary. “All rooms were full and we had good bookings through until our Pro-Am at the end of April. But that has all gone now. It is such a shame. The last six months have been so positive. We have had a lot of great publicity both in Australia and internationally about the course and our reputation has continued to grow. The challenge now is to get through this period as best as we can and not lose that momentum or exposure we have gained over the past six months.
“We operate the facility on the bare bones as it is. I guess going forward we will just have to bunker down and keep costs to the bare minimum. We won’t be spending much money on fertilisers and pesticides, just fuel. We normally close the course July and August so I guess this just brings things forward a little. There are plenty of things to do around the course so we will concentrate on those for the time being.”
As well as having detailed discussions with the course’s owners in Vietnam, Geary has also been having meetings and conversations with local tour operators and businesses. All operators on the island – such as car hire, accommodation, restaurants and airlines – have been impacted by the decision and they have been working hard trying to get people to postpone or reschedule for later in the year rather than cancelling altogether.
“We are no different to other parts of the country and clubs which will be doing it tough in the coming months, but it’s more the fact that it happened so quickly and came as quite a shock to us all,” says Geary. “It’s strange to think that last week we were full and now we are having to effectively shut the gates. On the flip side, I guess being at the very top of King Island it would be one of the safest spots in the country at this moment in time!”