Golf projects continue, with social distancing, under the shadow of coronavirus

Golf projects continue, with social distancing, under the shadow of coronavirus
Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

With more borders closing and populations isolating in the important effort to minimise the spread of coronavirus, Richard Humphreys and Adam Lawrence of GCA spoke with several golf course architects to find out about the impact of the virus on their projects.

In Manila, Philippines, Nicklaus Design’s Jim Wagner is currently under home quarantine, while at the same time trying to manage the progress of his project at Royal Golf Club in Vietnam.

“Royal Golf Club is still going full on,” he said. “They’ve had a couple Covid-19 cases in town about 20-30 minutes from the site but have largely been able to keep that under control. I was on site for a week, just a week and a half ago, and things are developing nicely there. It was a critical visit given the current global situation as we continued to develop concepts, make approvals and resolve landscape materials and other concerns to allow work to push on in my absence.

“As we move forward, I will likely be required to make future approvals via WeChat video calls with Don Page and Boyd Bolte or reviewing drone footage until we are past this. The job can’t stop. I am confident in our site team and we are all on the same frequency after my last visit, so we will just continue to communicate and make sure the concepts Jack II has developed are executed.

“As for precautions, the team is getting on well,” continued Wagner. “The site is a bit isolated, so it’s likely the best place to be rather than in town all day. Everyone is following the procedures the government has set in place.

“Oddly enough, in China I have a redesign project that is currently out for tender and a five-hole redesign that I will start plans for at the end of the month. We are excited to finally see some signs of life in the China market, especially in light of the current situation, and we are hopeful the movement continues is the right direction.”

Nicklaus Design is also pushing forward with other projects (in various stages of planning) around the world, including Indonesia, Philippines and Belgium.

Tom Mackenzie of the Mackenzie & Ebert said: “Obviously, Covid-19 is having a profound impact, but projects are being finished off. Contractors are keeping their operators apart at breaks and they are working outside and living separately. How long this can go on for is hard to predict.

“It is possible that some clubs may choose to bring forward work that is already budgeted for, as many members are grounded and clubhouses likely to remain closed. If work can be done in the coming months, then it would be a huge bonus.

“Travel plans have been profoundly affected, with many trips and projects halted.”

Mackenzie’s design partner Martin Ebert added: “Clubs which rely on green fee income – especially overseas income – are concerned about their drop in revenues. However, some clubs have seen an increase in play as a result of golfers not being able to travel overseas so they are taking the opportunity to play in the UK. Princes is one example.”

Keith Rhebb in the middle of an extended stay on the Caribbean island of St Lucia, where he is shaping the new Cabot St Lucia course on behalf of Coore & Crenshaw. “We are still working – Dave Axland and I are here, on the same hole – but we are on different sides of the fairway with at least fifty yards between us!” he said. “Day to day, we watch whether the travel restrictions will change – I was planning on going home on leave next week but I’m staying put for now because I can’t tell if I’d be quarantined in the US or whether I’d be able to get back in here. Bill and Ben were here two weeks ago, and Bill is planning to return at the beginning of April, but who knows whether he’ll be able to – everything is just up in the air. We’re trying to stay positive for now. There are only two cases on the island, both in quarantine. No cruise ships are docking, and they have suspended flights from places like the UK.”

In a statement on Twitter, the Robert Trent Jones II firm said: “To our friends, clients, colleagues and fellow golfers: as we all know, the current response to the coronavirus is changing the business and lifestyle dynamics of most of the world right now. We will continue to follow the advice of government agencies by reducing travel and practicing social distancing.

“As to our work, we will also continue to design your projects so that when the ‘all clear’ is sounded, we’re ready to hit the ground (or the greens) running. Here at RTJ II we’re using this time to design in-house, and to provide support and encouragement to our community.”

Clayton, DeVries & Pont has seen a variety of responses from clubs that have planned or have ongoing golf course projects. The immediate challenges the firm is facing relate to its consulting work and communication with club members as well as the partners’ ability to travel internationally. It says it has had to conduct business in a different manner, as face-to-face meetings have had to be postponed due to social distancing measures that are in effect in some countries – the firm has just agreed to put up boards with some of its initial study work in the clubhouse at The Addington.

Infinite Variety Golf Design – led by CDP principal Frank Pont – has projects continuing in Spain – albeit with delays – and Germany, where two major projects are close to entering the construction phase and have been reconfirmed by the clients.

Like most others in the golf business, CDP is also considering the impact on the golf industry once we emerge from the threat of the virus. If, as they expect, the pandemic has an economic impact not unlike that of the 2008 recession, the industry will need to show resilience for some years to come.