In this special series of online articles we take a look at the effects of the pandemic and lockdown on our local golf clubs. From March 2020 to the present day how has it changed our golf clubs and the people that work in the industry.
We begin in an ex-mining town on the Derbyshire/Notts border, a location more than used to challenging times.
Part 1 – Lockdown life at the proprietary club – Brierley Forest GC, Huthwaite – Nottinghamshire
Members in March 2020 – 186 – Current membership – 425
Brierley Forest’s impressive rise in membership since spring 2020 has been eye-catching, but it is a little churlish to suggest that was all down to the lockdowns. Much of it is to do with the drive and enthusiasm of a husband and wife team of golf club rookies that took over this struggling Notts/Derbyshire bordering club back at the beginning of 2020.
It was pure unfortunate co-incidence that almost the moment they received the keys to the establishment lockdown one hit us, but Natalie and Grant Matchett, along with their family who also form part of the Management Team – Paul Bough and Caroline Matchett together with a valuable team of volunteers (many members) were undaunted and set about their task of restoring the golf club back into the heart of the local community.
It was no easy job from then until now and their lack of experience in running such an operation has been exposed at times. A steep learning curve in an unexpected situation – but BFGC is in a way better place right now than it was then, so despite it all, their first 18 months has to be deemed a success.
Grant – “Originally we had a five year plan to transform the golf club when we took over, thanks to lockdown one financially we took an instant hit but were still able to get a lot of those jobs out of the way sooner while no-one was golfing. Both on and off course, we were able to get the majority of the work done within six months.”
Nat – “You have to use that opportunity as an advantage don’t you, and we had lots of volunteers, many of them club members with different skill sets and free time on their hands lining up to help. This is a golf club that has always had a true community spirit around it, and that good will really came out at the time. That’s how we got started and that’s been our ethos ever since.”
During lockdown the club entertained too, running outdoor street quizzes for instance to encourage the non-golfing local community to join in too, making the club more family friendly and encouraging social membership and further function activities which eventually moved indoors when restrictions were lifted.
Plenty of goodwill and positivity in lockdown one, but fast forward to last winter, with the tiered system taking its toll on playing and the vital renewal season ahead, Nat and Grant were soon to face their biggest challenges yet.
“We don’t charge the world for membership as it is,” explained Grant, “but what we all agreed this spring was to reward the existing members who supported us by keeping the 2021 subs the same for them. We also paid their county fees.”
“But what we didn’t factor in were the huge rises in costs to us, for instance the public liability insurance for the club rose by 50%. The restrictions meant we had to have more staff in, gas, electric, water rates all went up too. Once we fully opened again in July, the brewery put up their prices by 15% – we’ve had a hell of a lot of increases we’ve had to bear.”
“I think we all feel in the industry that golf clubs are singled out a little by the businesses around them. Oh, they’re a golf club, they’re cash rich we can ask them for a little more – but that’s certainly not the case here.”
Perhaps a certain amount of naivety there – but when we asked them, in hindsight would they have done it differently, the answer was an unequivocal one.
“It was the right call, too much golf was missed by too many and we’re indebted to many of our members as well. We’ve took a hit ourselves and continue to do so and there’s been a few cutbacks we’ve reluctantly had to make in staffing ahead of the winter. But we wouldn’t have done it any other way and the foundations we’ve built will see us alright in the long run.”
Since March 2020 the club have also developed an indoor swing room, which was naturally underused last winter, but is likely to prove to be an invaluable asset this time around. A new pro shop has been opened this year too, currently not as stocked as they would have envisaged it, attributed purely to the common supply chain issues that all of us are aware of.
Extra traffic came along too as Covid also brought out the walkers in the local population in greater numbers. Many of them have now found the Brierley Forest clubhouse to be a welcoming spot for a coffee and snack afterwards.
Grant, also a Notts Alliance golfer has been grateful to the head and all the greenkeeping team throughout with impressive results as the course has steadily improved in quality. Yet he fell victim to supply chain problems in the middle of summer when two vital pieces of equipment needed parts, there are many greenkeepers out there who can relate to that issue.
So despite the much vaunted improvement in course quality and conditioning at BFGC there’s a sense of frustration in Grant that despite all the hard work, he wasn’t completely rewarded for it.
“There was a boom in tee times for sure and lots of extra members, sounds like any golf club owner’s dream, and it has been heartwarming, but it leads to a few issues too. The wear and tear on the course was greater and when we needed equipment replacing it just wasn’t available quickly enough.”
“We did have to look at our systems and tee times for members and pay and players too and work it all out as fairly as we could at the time. There is an impact to having so many golfers and our clubhouse isn’t the biggest either.”
On a personal level the couple remain challenged but together and very positive about the future which is great to see as Nat concluded,
“It’s not easy, we practically live on site, we have two young daughters and haven’t been away this year. But our own families and the BFGC community always pitch in to help. When we had Covid ourselves, they all rallied round especially our staff, brought us food deliveries, walked our dogs for us. It just a big family here and Grant is especially passionate about what he does on the course and watching it all develop. Off course we make sure we have a lot of parties and fun too. All in all the pride we have in this place keeps us going.”