Fife’s council-owned golf courses have reported a “very strong” start to the 2022 season after managing to weather the COVID storm in recent years.
Fife Golf Trust’s annual report for the period 2020/21 has suggested the impact of COVID-19 appears to have led to something of a “boom environment” for outdoor leisure industries – and one that the organisation is keen to make the most of over the coming years.
The Trust operates five 18-hole and two nine-hole golf courses – including the 18-hole Cowdenbeath Golf Club, and the 9-hole course at Lochore Meadows – on behalf of Fife Council and aims to advance public participation in golf and develop projects which could further enhance its charitable status.
Councillors on Fife Council’s community and housing services sub committee heard how the Trust spent most of 2020/21 responding to the challenges posed by the pandemic and ensuring local courses were operated safely and in line with Scottish Golf and Scottish Government guidance and legislation.
And despite enforced closures from March to May 2020 and an ever changing picture in terms of restrictions, the Trust managed to return a balanced financial position for 20/21 after five years of operational losses.
Alistair Macgregor, chief executive of the Trust, commented: “With a small, dedicated team with finite resources, FGT has built on the progress from previous years and despite the COVID challenges has increased the number of season and visitor ticket sales whilst introducing new online booking and ensured the financial impact of covid on FGT and Fife Council was minimised.”
Councillor Neil Crooks, who has been on the FGT board since its inception over a decade ago, described the work done over the past two years in particular as a “massive achievement”.
“It can be an expensive game to try and play but we’ve done our bit to suppress price increases while improving courses,” he said.
“It’s maybe an unfortunate benefit but because the golf courses have been places people can access under controlled conditions we’ve benefited from an increase in people playing golf.
“It has been challenging, with the steps we need to take to keep people safe changing month to month, but we’ve also managed to meet our charitable objectives which is brilliant.”
Following Golf Environment Organisation (GEO) certified accreditation in March 2017, FGT is continuing to work towards improving the sustainable management and environmental quality of its courses.
Noting a desire to transition to electric machinery, Mr Macgregor also highlighted the importance of investing in efficient and reliable machinery moving forward to maintain courses, improve off-course facilities and generate additional income.
To that end, he urged the council to examine the possibility of long-term leasing or hire arrangements – an avenue, up to now, which has not been explored.
He said: “The lease costs can be quite attractive and you have to ask: is it desirable for the council to hold assets that are deteriorating?”
A business plan for the next three years has also been submitted to Fife Council for consideration.