It’s normally one of the signs that spring has arrived: the opening of Manitoba golf courses welcoming eager players to the links.
However, with the provincially mandated closure of non-essential services due to the coronavirus pandemic, it looks like plans to hit the driving range or the course will have to wait a little while longer.
“With the warm weather coming … those would be huge days for all golf courses,” said Guido Cerasani, owner of Shooters Family Golf Centre.
The family owned golf course, on Main Street just south of Winnipeg’s Perimeter Highway, is known for usually being one of the first courses to open for the season in the city. Cerasani says his business got off to an early start this spring, with the driving range opening in late March, but that was short-lived.
“We did open the driving range for a few days prior to the April 1 classification to non-essential service, so we had a few [customers] on the nice days,” Cerasani said.
As a result of the mandated closure, he says, he’s had to lay off five full-time staff members. He says he’s now relying on take-out and delivery sales from the course’s restaurant to help ease the pain of not being able to fully open his operation.
“The golf course is what drives the food and beverage in the summertime, so without full-fledged operation of the golf course and driving range facility, the hit will be bigger and bigger as the weather turns,” Cerasani said.
“Golf in Manitoba, you know, it’s about a $640-million GDP hit to the bottom line for the province.… It employs about 16,000 employees [at] over 130-plus golf courses and driving ranges.”
Harry Brotchie is the president of Lakeland Golf Management Group of Companies, which operates courses in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Brotchie says while it’s still early in the season for many courses, the impact of not being able to open is already having an effect.
“The biggest impact for us has been the lack of cash flow in the beginning of April,” said Brotchie. “We usually have open houses and presales, and I think that’s been difficult on a lot of public resort type courses.”
Brotchie, who is also the vice-president of the National Golf Course Owners Association, says not being able to bring in sales is hard on courses that still have to pay staff to maintain the greens and facilities.
“The current protocol allows us to have our maintenance staff in limited numbers, with limited responsibilities and duties, to maintain the golf course to get it ready for this spring,” Brotchie said, adding a course would deteriorate quickly without maintenance.
‘Can be done safely’
Both Brotchie and Cerasani say they understand they won’t be able to open till health authorities deem it safe to. They both remain optimistic they may be able to open when Manitoba’s current public health order expires on May 1.
Brotchie says golf courses are seasonal and have a small window to do business.
The National Golf Course Owners Association has presented a list of protocols to governments that could be implemented in the event courses will be able to open this spring.
“We believe that golf is a reasonably safe opportunity for people to get some mental and physical breaks from what they’ve been going through.”
Brotchie says some of the suggested protocols include not having flags or cups on the green, only allowing one player per power cart, pre-paying online, and extending tee times between players.
Brotchie notes some B.C. courses have remained open during the pandemic, but that has drawn mixed reaction from the public.
“Lots of people would like to get out and play and others are concerned about the health,” he said.
“As a National Golf Course Owners Association, we’re just taking the position of trusting the health authorities to give us the right advice.”
Cerasani says he’s feeling encouraged by the relatively low number of cases the province has reported in recent weeks as a sign that life can get back to normal.
“Golf is … one of the things that can be done safely,” Cerasani said.
“I’m feeling optimistic that hopefully by May 1, we might be able to open.”