It will be a long time before the full extent of the impact of Covid-19 is counted across the golf industry in Ireland but Lahinch GC is one club reporting huge losses as the nightmare that has been 2020 nears its end.
In an interview with the Irish Times, Martin O’Sullivan, Chairman of Lahinch Golf Club, revealed a projected deficit of €2.7 million in green fees and associated revenue in 2020, contributing to an expected loss of €1.3 million for the year.
Last year’s Irish Open host venue, a stunning links in County Clare rivalling the world’s best, has seen its visitor market ravaged like many championship courses along Ireland’s west coast. Restricted travel from the United States has been a major factor in the downturn with pre-Covid figures suggesting around 200,000 people travel from around the globe specifically for golf in Ireland.
Although there was plenty of support from the domestic market as golf made its return in May where many other sports were still put on hold, the report suggests that the short window to recoup overseas losses result in nearly €200,000 in green fee revenue, a figure that would’ve been significantly more only for this latest lockdown to stop golf in its tracks once more.
“At the start of it, none of us knew how bad it was going to be or how long it was going to go on for,” Martin O’Sullivan told Philip Reid. “Back in April, we did adjust our budget, we re-budgeted and looked at areas we could cut costs and did a revised budget and then revised it again a few months ago to project the results up to the end of December.
“The key number for us, is [we’re] down €2.7 million in what we call visitor revenue, the bulk of which is green fees and revenue from the shop associated with the visitors. Most businesses could not afford to take that sort of a belt. We’re lucky we had some reserves and pruned back our costs but we’re still coming in with a substantial financial loss. We’ve survived it for now but will look for things to improve going forward. This is a big enough hit.”
How heavy that blow is felt, and how deep its impact lasts will depend on how the world recovers from Covid-19. Will travel be back on the menu? Will a vaccine ensure life returns to the old normal? For now, Lahinch reports that people are erring on the side of optimism in that regard with postponed trips in the pipeline for 2021.
“Ninety percent of them have rescheduled [for 2021] and already there’s some talk from a small number of moving it on, those with the more pessimistic outlook, it might be the following year. But who knows? This is an evolving situation. We’ve budgeted for a worst-case scenario, but we’re mildly optimistic the second part of the year might see some travel if the whole vaccination programme works and there is a view the golfer might travel before the person on the coach tour,” said O’Sullivan.
“Hopefully it will come back right. We had a bit of a cash reserve which helped, and we would hope to rebuild cash to cater for any similar things that happen in the future. In a club like ours, all the time we’re trying to invest back, any profits will be reinvested.”