Golfing In Asia – Under The Cloud of Covid

Words By Malkeet Kaur | Photograph By Robert Baird

With the arrival of the COVID-19 vaccine, there seems to be some glimmer at the end of the proverbial tunnel. Perhaps soon, the citizens of the world will be able to resume some semblance of normal life eschewing, to some extent, the new norms that we have been forced to adopt since the outbreak of the pandemic. Though it seems highly likely that the new norms are here to stay.

Like an unexpected tsunami, this contagion has seized the world in a powerful and unstoppable wave that refuses to be tamed, causing more ripples as news of new variants surge and engulfs the world in despair again. This pesky virus has practically held every economic sector to ransom, and many businesses have succumbed under the weight of its many pressures. The golf industry, too, has not been spared.

Not a single major tournament has been played in Malaysia, nay, in Asia, since the Bandar Malaysia Open in March 2020. The lucrative Asian Tour, where golf professionals, especially Asians, ply their trade, has virtually come to a standstill, as has the secondary Asian Developmental Tour.

In Malaysia, the sustainable growth of golf clubs is linked closely to the hospitality industry’s sustainability; hence, the closure of hotels and restrictions in air travel has largely impacted the golf industry, particularly on the golf clubs that depend on inbound tourism. 

Since March 2020, some 16 golf clubs nationwide had to be closed for sanitization after members were tested positive for COVID-19. Thirteen of those clubs were in the Klang Valley, while the rest in Negri Sembilan, Perak and Johor. 

These clubs include Tropicana Golf and Country Club, Kelab Rahman Putra, Sungai Long Golf and Country Club, Impian Golf and Country Club, Royal Selangor Golf Club, TPC KL, Kelab Golf Negara Subang, Danau Golf Club, Staffield Country Resort, Glenmarie Golf and Country Club, Mines Resort Golf Club, Sultan Aziz Shah Golf and Country Club, Kota Permai Golf & Country, Horizon Hills Golf & Country Club, Templer Park Country Club and Royal Perak Golf Club.

All amateur events have also been cancelled or postponed indefinitely. The Malaysian Golf Association (MGA) periodically, depending on the situation, releases Mandatory Standard Operating Procedures for golf clubs and golfers.  The MGA has come out with protocols necessitating all caddies to wear gloves and masks at all times and, in its latest update, required all clubs to have a plastic divider in the buggies to minimise contact with those sharing one.

In a statement, MGA president Admiral Tan Sri Datuk Mohd Anwar Mohd Nor said the clubs could continue to do course maintenance but with a limited workforce.  Golf tournaments can only be permitted at golf clubs located in areas under the Conditional Movement Control Order (CMCO), subject to a maximum of 100 players and ongoing movement restrictions. No prize-giving or gatherings are permitted.  Twin-sharing buggy usage is permitted in CMCO states provided there is a plastic separator attached between the riders. Changing rooms can be opened but at 30% capacity.

Golf tournaments, however, are prohibited in areas under the Movement Control Order (MCO), namely Selangor, Kuala Lumpur, Johor and Penang, and single buggy usage is mandatory. Changing rooms must also remain closed. However, the MGA announced recently that golf clubs in MCO areas would be able to operate at 100% capacity for tee times and driving ranges. This is, of course, good news for golfers, but it would be imperative for everyone concerned to adhere to the required SOPs. Basically, don’t take unnecessary chances.

While golfers continue to be allowed to play in some regions of Asia, the pandemic pinch is being felt by many golf clubs and golf businesses across the region.  According to research done by the Asian Golf Industry Federation (AGIF), golf courses are currently open for play to varying degrees in Malaysia, Australia, China, Indonesia, Japan, Macau, Myanmar, Singapore, India, South Korea and Taiwan. The status of golf courses remains unclear in Bangladesh, Bhutan, Nepal and North Korea.

In some countries, the effects on the golf clubs that are still shut down are crippling. This also affects golf businesses, and inevitably clubs and businesses are being forced to lay-off staff. 

Some golf clubs allow maintenance teams to continue keeping the courses in good shape while maintaining COVID-19 distancing and hygiene practices so that when the bans are lifted, the courses will become playable immediately. 

In all these years, golf in this region has survived countless economic turmoil; the Asian crisis in the late nineties and the global financial crisis more than a decade ago. It remains to be seen how Asia survives the mayhem that the pandemic has evoked.  

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