When will we be able to play golf again?

A player prepares to strike the ball at Aloha Golf in Marbella.
A player prepares to strike the ball at Aloha Golf in Marbella. / EFE
  • Some courses in Andalucía were able to open this week, but the 72 in Malaga are still waiting to find out when they can do the same and some fear they will not be ready

It's a very simple question. When will people be able to play golf again in Andalucía, a region with 100 courses and 45,000 federated players? The answer is that it depends on where they are. Golf courses have been able to open again from this week in provinces which are in Phase One of easing the lockdown, although many havedecided not to, but in Malaga and Granada, which were kept in Phase Zero, golfers are going to have to wait a while longer. Another factor is that not every golf course will decide to open, even when permitted to do so.

Too many unknowns

The president of the Real Federación Andaluza de Golf, Pablo Mansilla, says that even if the courses in Malaga are able to open soon, it is likely that some will not have had enough time after receiving the health and safety protocol to put it into effect. "They are going to need more time to ensure that they are complying with the new rules," he says.

Some keen to reopen

It comes as no surprise that some golf clubs are very keen to open as soon as possible, because the two-month closure, during which staff have been laid off on the grounds of force majeure, has led to losses which will be almost impossible to make up this year. In addition, the courses still have to be maintained even when nobody can use them.

"I would say there is a 75 per cent chance of my members being able to play golf again as soon as we are allowed to open," says the president of the Real Guadalhorce Club, Ángel Gancedo, optimistically. "Of course, we would have to be completely ready, with everything in place in accordance with the new protocol, and if we're not, then we will wait," he says.

The presidents of other clubs who we consulted feel the same, such as Carlos Pitarch, of Lauro Golf. "Our intention is to open, but there is a risk that there won't be many clients. We want to give players the opportunity to play their favourite sport again. The course has to be maintained anyway, whether anybody comes or not. There is still a great deal of uncertainty about everything," he says.

Different business models

The 72 golf clubs in Malaga province are divided between those who base their business model on members' fees and those based on the 'pay and play' format which is mainly aimed at international tourists (90 per cent of the visitors who come to play golf) or those from Spain, who make up the remaining ten per cent.

The Guadalhorce club is clearly in the first group, and has 625 members. "The crisis in 2007 meant that there wasn't enough income to maintain the club and led to a dependence on external green fees, but those account for about 20 to 25 per cent of the business," explains Ángel Gancedo.

Lauro Golf, with about 300 members, follows a mixed model and will suffer more from the pandemic crisis. "Our perspective in the medium term is bad, but for the long term I am optimistic. We are a fantastic golf destination with top quality courses, but we can't drop our guard and one of the problems is the IVA, which is not set at the rate for tourism services (10 per cent) but the normal 21 per cent," says Carlos Pitarch.

Torrequebrada Golf is the opposite case, says its president, Francisco Ruiz. "We don't think we would be able to open next week. We need to know how the ERTEs will work out and will want to ensure all the hygiene and safety regulations are complied with. Also, as we are 100 per cent commercial, we are the most badly affected by the closure."

A key sector for tourism

It is a revealing figure: around 650,000 tourists come to Malaga province a year just to play golf. "We are the first to be able to help get the economy going again," says Pablo Mansilla, although he is fully aware that there may be no international tourism this year. There is another key factor: golf is not a contact sport and the courses have as much as 600,000 square metres of space, which is plenty to ensure that there is no crowding.