‘It’s difficult to find a reason to get up in the morning’: The forgotten faces of golf in the pandemic

Golf club staff have lived a strange existence in recent months.
One manager tells Steve Carroll how his staff have been coping with life on furlough

Aneil Chauhan considers himself lucky. He can fill his days – delivering a mental health project he’s hoping to launch with England Golf – but time goes quickly and keeping productive is a challenge.

As operations manager at Stonebridge Golf Centre, Aneil was tasked with telling staff last March and November they were going on furlough.

When lockdown shut the doors of the Coventry club for the third time at the start of January, he found himself staying at home with them.

You might find this surprising, but the clock can race away from you when you’re on furlough. It’s easy, if you’re not careful, to waste weeks.

“In terms of actually finding a reason to get up in the morning, I’ve been finding it quite difficult,” Aneil admits.

“Keeping on top of time and keeping yourself productive is one thing that all the staff have said they have struggled with. I think that goes for everyone.”

Club staff have become the forgotten faces of golf during the coronavirus pandemic. We know all about the time members have lost on course, and we know about the effect padlocked gates are having on bottom lines.

But, across England, Wales and Ireland, thousands of staff have lived a strange existence since our way of life so dramatically changed last spring.

From week to week, they’ve wondered what the future holds as they’ve come on and off furlough when cases have risen and dipped. Some, of course, haven’t come back to work at all. For Aneil, the experience of seeing how that all worked, and the knowledge that everyone returned to Stonebridge before, helped soften the blow of sharing a similar fate this time.

“I don’t think I had the shock that other people did in the first two – where they were unsure about the route back in and what would be needed.

“Now we know the process of what’s going to happen when things do start to open up, and that there is an end to this, it made me feel OK.

“But, at the same time, you feel quite bad for the members who are sitting at home, can’t do anything, and have paid their subs for January.”

He adds: “We’ve done it before, the staff know that this is temporary and we’re going to do everything we can to keep them on, and [so] it’s different.

“The first lockdown was hard. No one knew anything at all about how long it was going to be – originally it was going to be three weeks – and then everything changed from there.”

As we speak, lockdown seems open ended. The mere whisper of a loosening provokes cries whichever side of the debate you’re on.

What seems likely, though, is that courses won’t be opening any time soon and, consequently, furlough won’t be over either.

“From my point of view, and my position, I think my return is open ended,” Aneil said when asked if it was hard to stay motivated.

“Because we’ve done it before, the team that we’ve got know the process and what will be needed when we do.

“After the first lockdown, when we reopened, it was basically opening a golf club from scratch.

“We had to redo the tee-sheets. We had to send out a whole different booking process. This time, we kind of know what we’re going to relaunch.

“You can kind of guess it’s going to be two-balls when we reopen under the same rules. It’s hard. It’s hard to stay motivated and I can’t really answer that question.

“I guess it’s just playing golf again. It will get back to normal and, working over the last couple of lockdowns, you see that there’s still interest.

“Even when we were closed you still got membership enquiries, you still got wedding inquiries and you still got big conference enquiries.

“So it’s motivating to know that the world was still ticking over and people were still interested in doing things and looking forward to the future. That was a good motivator.

“I guess I’ve lost that this time on furlough so I’m looking for that motivation. That was what kind of pulled us all through the last one, especially me and the GM. When you’re in lockdown you don’t know what’s going to happen and when you get a conference enquiry that want to block book with you it’s a big boost and you get going again. It’s hard at the moment.”

But the spring beckons, though it seems so far away at present, and the promise of better times lie ahead.

Aneil thinks the golf boom that surprised everyone last May will continue as parts of our lives get back to normal ahead of others. Even the most pessimistic person would agree it’s likely we’ll be back on a golf course before we’re in a football ground.

Stonebridge, like so many others, rode that popularity train in the summer and Aneil sees the chance to push on once more. There’s a waiting list at the 27-hole venue and a “massive membership base is now even bigger”.

And while furlough has been far from ideal, he will take the positives from such an unprecedented time in his life.

“When people were on furlough, and I was working, I was constantly telling them ‘take advantage of the time to just do whatever you want to do and relax and switch off. You’re not going to get that again – probably in your lifetime’.

“So I think it’s just a rest and a reset and to be able to go back with a fresh mind and look at it from the golfer’s point of view.

“At the minute, I’m sitting here as a golfer wanting to play golf. I can’t and I’m waiting for my golf club to send me an email of when and how we’ll open.

“It’s quite good to see it from the other side and see how much communication matters to members. But it’s the rest, and the reset more than anything now, because you really want to get back on it straightaway.”

How is your club coping with coronavirus? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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