Nobody could’ve foreseen the impact that Covid-19 has had around the globe and no industry was spared in 2020. The golf industry had been hibernating for most of the winter before being forced into an extended slumber back in March as lockdowns gripped the nation. Courses normally awash with golfers at the beginning of the club season were left abandoned but for maintenance staff keeping the grass cut ahead of a hopeful return to play. No course was left unaffected, no matter how big or how small, with staff retention and communication to members just some of the immense challenges clubs faced during a most difficult spell for golf.
“Like everyone else, we had to close our doors for operation, but we were fortunate enough to use a number of our golf operations staff working at the entrance to the resort,” says Totos. “Although the golf courses were closed, the biggest challenge was managing communication with members, the visitors who had booked golf and discussing reopening plans with the operations team and the Committee.
“We did place a few golf staff on “furlough” during this initial time but 80% of operational staff were used in other areas and worked a reduced week. We also had a similar situation with golf maintenance staff during this time to ensure course standards remained at a high level.”
Golf was eventually granted permission to reopen on Monday, May 18th but for members only initially and Government travel restrictions of 5-kilometres for non-essential journeys applied. Clubhouses remained closed, with Carton House’s new Carriage House bar and restaurant a sleeping giant as golf business models were forced to adapt to new regulations over the summer months. Restrictions were eventually lifted, and a return to some form of normality followed, however, even a noticeable increase in consumer numbers failed to compare to figures that would’ve been achieved off pre-pandemic projections.
“From a golf rounds perspective, during the same periods, the round numbers increased significantly especially on the members side,” says Totos. “So it has been wonderful to see the numbers increase the way it has. Between the demand from members and the movement restrictions, it has, however, limited the number of visitor rounds we would normally see.
“We have seen close to 50% reduction in visitor green fees compared to 2019, while on the Food & Beverage side, unfortunately we have seen a large drop off in business compared to pre–covid times and this has to do with ensuring social distancing regulations and timings we have been following.”
Even as restrictions eased, travel limited to within a person’s own county meant many members suffered, particularly at courses like Carton that sit on the county borders. The Maynooth venue sees the majority of its members based in Dublin, Meath and Kildare, while some reside further afield.
“A good percentage of our members are from different counties so it has been difficult. We have taken the decision, after discussions with member representatives and ownership, to offer members a reduction off their 2021 subscriptions.”
In better news, a successful lobby group had seen members granted permission to travel outside of their county for golf: “I would like to take the opportunity to thank all of those who did help get this allowance,” said a relieved Totos. “It certainly made a difference and I and the members are very thankful that it happened.”
Even after such a stop-start year and obvious financial struggle, Carton House is one of a number of clubs that continues to invest in the future, despite the pandemic. A major renovation of the hotel will open in early 2021 and golfers keen to sample stay and play options at the former Irish Open host venue are getting their bookings in early ahead of the New Year and beyond.
“We are getting bookings for 2021 and many of them include accommodation,” says Totos. “Although the rate at which these bookings are coming in is not as slow as I would have thought, there is definitely more interest in 2022. I think the market, especially internationally, is still a bit uncertain as to what may happen in 2021. However, the latest news of vaccines may alleviate some of that concern in the coming months.
“I am trying to forget about 2020 and am looking fondly on 2021. Our business on the books for 2021 is looking very good and with the refurb of the Hotel and the introduction of the Fairmont Brand to the resort, we are all excited about what the future holds for Carton House.”