In the early days of the Coronavirus (COVID-19) national lockdown, sportscotland made it a crucial priority to elevate support for the Scottish governing bodies of sport (SGBs).
This support was designed to protect the workforce that underpins Scotland’s world class sporting system and make sure the population of an active Scotland would continue to benefit from sport.
Golf was one of the first sports permitted to resume when restrictions were eased, and golfers in Scotland have been continuously active from 29 May 2020 - unlike in other parts of the UK. But the resumption of play in hundreds of clubs across the country was complex.
Scottish Golf, with assistance from sportscotland, succeeded in keeping members engaged and active throughout lockdown, before benefiting from membership growth and increased participation when players were allowed back on course.
Key to this was fast-tracked investment and coherent ongoing guidance, which – combined with the adoption of technology such as Scottish Golf’s Venue Management System (VMS) – enabled players to be safely welcomed back when restrictions allowed.
Karin Sharp, COO of Scottish Golf, recalled: “Throughout 2020 we focused on building stronger partnerships within the golfing industry and across the sporting sector.
"Support from sportscotland was invaluable during this critical time to make sure we were at the forefront of the return to sport and try to ensure there would be positive outcomes for the clubs.
“There was no playbook for this situation. How do you navigate a pandemic, how do you communicate public health messaging in a crisis when you’ve never done it before?
“One of the things we did was to make sure we were in constant contact with the sportscotland team to make sure the return to golf was as safe as possible.”
Scottish Golf’s response to the health emergency included channelling more funding and resources to supporting clubs – some of whose existence was threatened by the enforced closure.
Initiatives such as an affiliation rebate, a club relief fund and a Coronavirus (COVID-19) fixed cost grant funded by the R&A were welcomed by clubs and COVID-19 officer training was also provided.
SGBs and local partners across the sporting system were provided with six months of their annual investment (£16.4m) by sportscotland in May 2020. This helped protect an estimated 1,600 jobs across the sector including more than 1,000 in SGBs, targets and outcomes attached to funding were also relaxed.
The final six months of annual investment (£16m) was provided in August also without the usual targets and outcomes attached, at the same time sportscotland created a £1.5m Covid Support Fund to provide additional support to SGBs.
This investment allowed SGBs to continue to support staff, clubs and members across the country throughout the pandemic.
Critical to Scottish Golf’s successful management of the crisis was the adoption of new and existing technology.
A webinar series enabled the communications team to provide expert advice to members, with 200 clubs engaging and more than 2,000 people attending – there were also more than 13,000 retrospective views of the webinars.
Scottish Golf’s Venue Management System (VMS) was already a feature of their app offering, enabling clubs to offer a paperless booking solution to members along with offering a comprehensive suite of software tools to enable clubs to manage their venue and make it fully accessible to the golfer though their own device. Use of the system more than tripled during the first six months of the pandemic, coinciding with the introduction of a new handicapping system that provided clubs and players with another solution that reduced manual contact.
David Kernohan, Scottish Golf’s Head of VMS & Handicapping, said: “From a technology perspective, we didn’t build the VMS with COVID-19 in mind, but as an organisation we wanted to move in a digital direction. There were a lot of clubs that didn’t have booking systems in place, so when the announcement came out that we needed to have Test & Protect contact tracing in place, some of the clubs would have struggled to comply with COVID-19 guidance, if they had not taken advantage of VMS.”
“Competition wise, everything can be booked and paid for through the app, and scoring can also be done through the app – which was vital in allowing golf clubs to resume competition golf safely, complying with the guidance of not to use paper scorecards to reduce the risk of transmission.
“We launched the product in 2018, and until the start of lockdown we had about 30-40 clubs using it. We were already offering this as a solution to our affiliated golf clubs. Once Coronavirus (COVID-19) hit, we saw a massive influx in golf clubs wanting to use our venue management solution. We’ve now got 250 clubs on board.
“We also launched WHS, the new handicapping system, on our app in November 2020, and that gives all golfers the ability to register their scores through a device. As well as supporting clubs this means we can support golfers, too, by reducing the number of touchpoints.”
David recalled: “The feedback from the clubs we deal with from a VMS perspective was that Scottish Golf gave really clear guidance on what could and couldn’t be done to ensure that their members were safe, that their golf clubs were safe, and that – tying in the digital solution we were giving them – Scottish Golf provided a really good service during the pandemic.”
Stewart Harris, sportscotland Chief Executive, said: “Scottish Golf has shown a real resilience in responding to the challenges presented by the pandemic.
"Thanks to its strong leadership and close partnerships with sportscotland and the Scottish Government, Scottish Golf has been at the forefront of the return to sport programme, working tirelessly to represent its members.
“This approach has ensured that golf courses have remained open for much of the pandemic, helped in no small part by the patience and commitment of golfers and golf clubs across the country who have played their part by continuing to adhere to the latest public health guidance.”
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