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Impacts of COVID-19 on the Turf Industry

Thursday 28, May 2020

The COVID-19 global pandemic has changed the world as we know it and like many industries the sports turf management profession has been hit hard. ATM takes a look at how Australian turf managers have navigated their way through a forever-changing operating environment.

Matt McLeod’s Facebook post summed up the mood and feeling of many as the reality of the COVID-19 global pandemic started to hit home.  Posted on 25 March 2020, just two days after his club had announced it would be closing its doors indefinitely, the Cobram-Barooga Golf Club superintendent penned… “Hi all, today I start what will hopefully be a short period of isolation.  I like many others have been stood down – I feel numb, angry, lost, scared and emotional with everything that is going on in the world.  We will get through this I know, but we all need to do our best and follow the government recommendations... Please take care.  Cheers Matt.”  McLeod’s club, like so many others, was reacting to a rapidly changing operating environment as the Australian Government instituted sweeping lockdown measures in late March to reduce the spread of COVID19.  It was a double-whammy for McLeod who just days earlier had also received the agonising confirmation that his trip of a lifetime to Augusta National for the 2020 Masters had also become a victim of the pandemic.

Throughout the sports turf industry over the past two months, superintendents and turf managers like McLeod have found themselves making significant changes not only to their every-day lives, but also to the way they manage their facilities, their staff and their surfaces.  They have found themselves in some very challenging predicaments, being asked to make difficult decisions in relation to standing down crew and managing their facilities with reduced resources.

It has been a confronting and confusing time.  After initially being told to close their gates, clubs in NSW and Queensland were allowed to re-open as long as they adhered to the Federal Government’s imposed rules of social distancing and rigorous hygiene standards.  Western Australia and Northern Territory have eased their restrictions, yet in Victoria, at the time of writing, clubs and sports facilities still remain closed.  Then you have unique cases such as RACV Royal Pines; although based on the Gold Coast and thus technically allowed to be open for golf, it’s Victoria-based owners RACV have put a blanket closure on all their facilities.

Thankfully, for the most part, course superintendents, turf managers and their crews have been allowed to continue to maintain their facilities, albeit with greatly reduced staff and resources.  Capital expenditure and projects have been placed on hold and purchasing has been restricted to only what is absolutely necessary.

The economic impact of the pandemic on the industry will be felt for a long time and remains one of the great unknowns.  Clubs are in unchartered waters and attrition, especially of those that were struggling before the pandemic hit, will be inevitable.  One Murray River-based course superintendent reported his club did $27,000 in green fees alone in the first week of the restrictions.

Cameron Hall, superintendent at Kew Golf Club in Melbourne, is just one of many to be concerned how things will play out in the coming months: “From a club perspective we obviously had huge cancellations of corporate golf, functions, weddings etc which has altered our projected cash flow for the coming year,” says Hall.  “That in turn is going to affect what capital projects we can carry out, along with equipment purchases.  Seasonal staff for the coming summer will be a wait and see depending on how long this lasts.”

Rob Savedra, curator at Wesley College’s Glen Waverley campus in Melbourne, is also mindful of future ramifications: “Due to cash flow uncertainties, we have been instructed to maintain and repair but not undertake any new budgeted projects until further notice,” explains Savedra. “It will be interesting to see the impact on budgets going forward.  The financial situation for some parents may see the need for school fee payments being withheld or negotiated and therefore not coming in during the traditional time frame.  This could cause difficulties in budgeting and money allocation to the various departments.  Obviously funds have also been diverted to charging up the IT department and online teaching side of the operation to keep students learning remotely.”

This article was originally published in Volume 22.2 of the ATM, CLICK HERE to read the full article. 

Images: Idris Evans (WAGC), Travis Stillman (Rossdale GC), Nic Douglas (Spring Valley GC)