A Golf Conversation With…

04 Jul 2020

The lifting of the Singapore’s Circuit Breaker on 19th June meant golfers could finally indulge in their much beloved pastime again. With golf courses closed for almost two months, there was much pent-up demand. Overjoyed golfers flocked to golf courses to get in a round of 18, those unfortunate enough to not secure a foursome diverted to long queues at driving ranges for their fix, in the quest to relieve an almost two-month long golf itch.

What though, are the long-term implications of the COVID-19 Corona virus on the game of golf and how we play it?

In this first of a two-part conversation, GolfAsia sought out Andrew Johnston, General Manager of Sentosa Golf Club, Singapore’s premier golf club and host to two of Asia’s biggest tournaments, the SMBC Singapore Open and the HSBC Women’s World Championship. With his experience in dealing with large crowds on site, Johnston is well placed to provide an informed perspective.

The climate for golf has changed drastically with the advent of COVID-19, the most immediate impact has been the cancellation of the HSBC Women’s Champions event, what impact did that have on Sentosa Golf Club?
Although it was unfortunate to see the HSBC Women’s World Championship cancelled, the safety of the world’s most talented professional golfers and their respective teams; including caddies, therapists and physiotherapists; as well as the LPGA’s tournament directors and officials, and all of our staff, members and the general public at Sentosa Golf Club was far more important than staging the event.

It was a hard decision, but I have the deepest respect for both everyone at HSBC and LPGA Commissioner Michael Whan for having the intuitive insight and courage to cancel the event. It was the right thing to do no matter how disappointed we all were. At this point the impact on the club has been overtaken by the world’s problems and we are now looking forward to getting the event back next year and hopefully having this all behind us.

More importantly however, is seeing all of our wonderful members, colleagues, and industry professionals safe and playing golf on a day to day basis again, something we are truly looking forward to.

How is golf at Sentosa Golf Club going to change moving forward?
As a club, we will continue to be flexible on a day to day basis and implement any changes that need making in order to provide the safest possible environment for all.
The health and safety of all our staff and members is of the upmost importance to us. We will continue to work closely alongside the Singapore Government to make sure everything is in place, both on and off the course, to ensure that everyone has a safe and enjoyable experience at Sentosa Golf Club.

What measures are being taken to ensure the safety of golfers on the course, while dining, and in the changing rooms especially?
We will continue to follow the guidelines developed by the Singapore Government. Removing bunker rakes, adjusting golf holes so that the cups are raised, and only allowing one golfer per golf cart, as per social distancing regulations, are just a few of the many measures that have been introduced around our golf courses to ensure that our members remain safe whilst playing at Sentosa Golf Club.

Additionally, we plan to adopt training practices and hold frequent meetings to update all of our staff on the current procedures and safety measures that are in place around the club, as well as introducing them to new procedures that may be implemented at a later time.

Sentosa Golf Club is an immensely popular for corporate golf events. With the full complement of 144 golfers and a shotgun start, what changes can attendees expect at such future events?
We feel that it will be some time before we see corporate golf return fully to the community and Sentosa Golf Club. When it does return, we will welcome it with open arms and remain as flexible as possible to meet the needs and requirements of our clients, whilst also continuing to ensure that the appropriate safety measures are in place, so that they can have a safe and enjoyable stay.
All attendees to corporate golf events will need to conform to the regulations and social distancing measures that are in place at that time around the club.

With the 2 months of the Circuit Breaker, how are the Serapong and New Tanjong courses faring?
The New Tanjong course is looking great. We have been able to maintain a very small crew that have been working on only essential vector control work around the course. This has mainly centred around the basic mowing of the course and clearing of leaves in order to keep things like mosquito developments down. With the time we have had to perform all golf maintenance activities, it did not take us long to get things back into shape. The course hardly looks like it has missed any action at all over the last few months.
I would like to take a moment and thank the team for all the hard work they have put in throughout the Circuit Breaker period. It is their never let up, never give up attitude, which is so special and that continues to drive us to excel to a level of excellence.

The Serapong course is and was undergoing its own renovations during this time and although the work was disrupted, we were able to make a little bit of progress to it throughout the Circuit Breaker period. We can’t wait to show the world what it is going to look like once we are done.

Taking it further afield, how do you see golf travel changing regionally and worldwide?
The idea of worldwide golf travel will be slow to return at first, but at some point it will definitely come back. At the moment, I think golfers will definitely have to look at more of a local or regional approach to golf travel. The most important thing is that we are all patient and give it time to recover in a safe manner, as well as continuing to make sure that all the appropriate safety measures are in place for when the time comes again to welcome golfers from all around the world.

In the meantime, all golf clubs should be looking to work on the conditions of their own properties and enhance the game first and foremost for their members and local players.
During this period, we will also be focusing on our efforts to drive deeper into our environmentally sustainable platform. Fitting electric car charging stations in partnership with Porsche, acquiring bio-digesters for our food and horticultural waste in partnership with the R&A, and installing some experimental floating solar farms in partnership with Sembcorp, are just a few of the many new initiatives that we are looking to push forward with.

Lastly, we are excited to share that we will be joining GEO this year and will work to become certified in an effort to continue to build on our “Game On” programme.