Return of golf is most ‘welcome’

THE Malaysian populace, as a community, should help ensure that the spread of the deadly Covid-19 be contained as best as possible.

This was the view expressed by Malaysian Golf Association secretary Datuk Zulkifli Ismail, who added that golfers and non-golfers alike should adhere to the guidelines and restrictions set out by the Health Ministry and other authorities to combat the pandemic.

In a wide ranging interview with TeeUp yesterday, Zulkifli also shared some telling pointers about the golf industry, the position it finds itself in and welcomed the decision to allow golf clubs to reopen tomorrow.

Ravaged by the Covid-19 pandemic which has, and continues to, take its toll on all of the global society, Zulkifli said that while the industry found itself in dire straits, it would rebound from it, even if it took between a year and a year-and-a-half.

“While Covid-19 is still very relevant” and local golf clubs all set to open for business tomorrow, giving “exact numbers is definitely not possible right now”, Zulkifli said. “But an overview of the state of golf here is one of great hardship and difficulty.

“We should also remember that the sustainable growth of golf clubs in Malaysia has been inextricably linked to the growth and sustainability of the hospitality industry. And with the closure of several hotels and the decline in global air travel to almost zero, the golf industry has been adversely impacted, mainly those golf clubs who primarily depend on in-bound tourism.”

The national association secretary added: “As the majority of golf clubs are propriety clubs, they are largely dependent on attractively-priced golf packages that are promoted for both local and international golf enthusiasts.

“With air travel literally coming to a grinding halt and with the movement control order (MCO) in force, it is our view that most golf clubs have been severely affected.”

Turning to the sort of impact the stimulus packages unveiled by Government will have on the golf industry, Zulkifli said there were a few things to take into account.

“Briefly, the first financial stimulus package by the government attempts to mitigate expenditure, to ensure that employees are retained and to prevent the closure of operations.

“The financial packages offered to ‘small and medium enterprises’ and subsidies offered to employers for employees earning RM4,000 and below for three months will not mitigate the huge operational costs incurred to maintain 18-hole golf courses.

“It is our view that while the health of employees, members of clubs and golfing patrons are of paramount importance, it is also imperative that appropriate operational guidelines, consistent with those issued by the Health Ministry be adhered to at all times.

Commenting on the reopening of the clubs, Zulkifli said that the national association would come up with guidelines to help the golf clubs to follow as they ease their way back into business.

“Yes, the move to reopen the courses is one that is appreciated by all concerned. But we will still have to ensure social distancing, the wearing of masks, hand wash and sanitation of equipment and facilities, and other measures as recommended by the Health Ministry, World Heath Organisation, are effectively enforced.”

Probed on whether or not any recommendations were made to the authorities to help the situation, Zulkifli said: “The drafting of the guidelines that require to be complied with by golf clubs in the post-movement control order era is an on-going progress.

“We have taken good counsel from Royal & Ancient Golf Club (R&A) at St Andrews, the world governing body outside of the United States and Mexico, and examples from other golfing jurisdictions in developing the same.

“These guidelines need to be followed effectively and safely at golf clubs in Malaysia. As you know, the relevant authorities of Government have approved the guidelines as announced by the Prime Minister, ” he added.

The game of golf survived some serious turbulence in recent times, particularly the Asian Crisis of 1997 and the 2008 Global Financial Crisis, so how does Covid-19 compare, if it does at all?

“The global financial crisis that Covid-19 has triggered is unprecedented, ” said Zulkifli. “When done, the global business community’s practices will change, business models may have to be revisited, human relationships will take on new dimensions – in short, the world will have changed, and maybe for the better, ” he added.

“It is our view that it will take anything from 12 to 18 months for (Malaysian) golf clubs to return to pre-movement control order levels, and that is on the assumption that affected nations lift their respective restrictions in due course.”

The main focuses or key areas to keep an eye on in post-MCO will be more than a handful, Zulkifli pointed out.

He said post-movement control order will be challenging at the best of times and not just for golf clubs, but for the whole nation.

“Covid-19 looks like it’s here to stay, at least for a while, ” he said. “It is essential therefore that all like-minded people in Malaysia, as a community, ensure that the spread of this deadly virus be contained at all costs.

“The guidelines and restrictions laid down by the Health Ministry from time to time, require to be strictly complied with, regardless whether we are golfers or otherwise.

He added: “But there are also some positives that we can take away from the crisis that Covid-19 has brought about upon humanity, some of which are:

a) That business and operational models require to be tweaked to manage future uncertainties

b) That businesses need to develop alternative sources of revenues to mitigate financial crisis from time to time

c) That wastages and leakages be better managed to improve cash flow reserves, and

d) To outsource certain operational aspects of golf club management to reduce human resource expenditure.

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