Regional authority: Not all are suffering

  • Golf
  • Sunday, 12 Apr 2020

Lynge shares a considered and balanced view of the situation.

AS the Covid-19 pandemic continues to wreck havoc across the globe, claiming thousands of lives amid growing numbers of infection, TeeUp interviewed Asian Golf Industry Federation chief executive officer Eric Lynge for an overview of the state of affairs in the region.

The Singapore-based administrator touched on several issues, including that of the clubs being affected. This, he said, was dependent on their status and varied from club to club.

His response went some way to underscoring a school of thought here in Malaysia that the big, and wealthier clubs – those owned by conglomerates and huge land developers, were in a much better situation than the smaller ones struggling to make ends meet. And now with the land tax circumvented by the stimulus packages handed out last week, “the big boys” have a lot less to moan about.

Indeed, as one Malaysian commentator put it this week: “For these (big, rich) clubs to plead poverty, it is not right.

“The sad thing is they do this in public and the gullible sections of the media take it word for word, knowing full well that a lot of people are not fooled by it. Perhaps, they are doing it just appease their superior – who knows?” he asked.

Notwithstanding this, Lynge said there were businesses under the cosh. He added, though, that there were some other destinations that were still open to playing golf, but with restrictions.

Following are excerpts of the interview:

Q: While Covid-19 is still in full force and we understand that giving exact numbers is not possible at this time, perhaps you could give us an overview how you see the state of golf in Singapore, and also the region that falls under your jurisdiction?

A: All golf courses are closed in Singapore since last Tuesday. Up to that time the courses were fully occupied on weekdays, as well as weekends. We have collated the information for the rest of the Asia Pacific region and the current status is as follows – Closed: Bangladesh, Brunei, Hong Kong, India, Malaysia, Nepal, New Zealand, Pakistan, Singapore, Sri Lanka, Thailand and Vietnam. Partially closed: Cambodia, Indonesia, Papua New Guinea and the Philippines. Open: Australia, China, Japan, Korea, Macau, Myanmar and Taiwan.

Q: In particular, what shape are the golf clubs in right now, and what about their related supplies and services?

A: In countries where golf is closed, private member clubs’ status are dependent upon their reserves/ownership and this can vary greatly. Some have plenty of reserves to wait their closure out. Resort and tourism dependent (walk-in) courses in closed markets are suffering greatly and their situation again is depending on their ownership and reserves. In countries where golf is open, local demand is high as golf is viewed as a safe haven and there is restricted travel. However, unless these courses are getting suitable dues and/or greens fees to support the volume, this can be stressful for the facilities as well.

Suppliers to the industry are also a mixed bag. Even closed courses need to maintain basic maintenance so depending on the service/product offered, business must continue. Social distancing policies in most markets are challenging suppliers.

Q: What sort of impact do you think the stimulus packages unveiled by the governments in the region (at the time of writing) will have on the golf industry, and maybe comment more specifically on Singapore?

In Singapore, while there is no golf specific stimulus package, the Government has instituted lump sum payment for every citizen as well as wage relief for every salaried citizen and permanent resident to assist all industries during this period.

Q: Golf is still being played in some other countries, but with restrictions, what’s your view on this?

A: There is a strong argument that golf is a game in which social distancing can be managed successfully. Australia, with its strong sporting culture, has found a hybrid model where all clubhouse operations are closed but golf is allowed by limiting number of people in flights, focus on walking and self-registration. There is an argument that this model could also work in some of the countries which are now in lockdown. However, it is difficult for many governments to allow this to what is perceived to be the elite population while other sports are not allowed the same benefit. However, this model can be viewed as a good re-opening stage at the appropriate time in each country when the Covid-19 situation is deemed to be improving.

Q: Do you know if any recommendations and/or requests have been maybe made to various authorities to try and help the game, and if so, what might these have been?

A: The AGIF along with other major industry leaders such as the R&A, are focused on recommending that golf courses still need to be allowed to continue maintenance to maintain the condition of the facilities to a level so that further losses are not incurred just to re-open the course for play when the situation improves. Unlike many other sports, the golf course requires maintenance even when not being used, and as long as it is maintained in a proper Covid-19 safety environment, it is vital to continue maintenance.

Q: Golf survived two turbulent times before – the Asian Crisis of 1997 and the 2008 Global Crash, how does this one compare even if we’re not yet done with it yet – do you think this one could be similar or worse?

A: The crisis is different due to reasons cited by economists across the globe. Economic stimulus alone cannot solve all the problems caused by Covid-19 which are different from previous crises.

Q: Is there anything you might want to add here?

A: For the golf industry, Covid-19 is a litmus test for the various operators on the current operations and viability of their facility. It will hasten a process already in place where trained and qualified management specific to the golf industry will be valued and a premium on operational efficiency will be valued. Certainly, the AGIF will add Covid-19 case studies to our Certificate in Greenkeeping and Certified Club Manager education modules which are certifying a new generation of club and turf management in Asia.

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Sport , TeeUp , Golf , Shaun Orange , AGIF , Eric Lynge


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