It started as an outreach program to help hurricane victims in their gated community in Pinehurst, N.C. But it’s needed just as much in these strange days, when a storm can take on a different but still devastating form.
The ill wind of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic has blown a hole in the normal rhythms of daily life, be it work, school, travel, commerce or recreation. Golf has not been immune from current dystopian circumstances, yet it has fared decently, remaining a viable—and largely available in some parts of the country—option for physical activity while the world desperately attempts a strategy of isolation to slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus.
Nevertheless, where courses at public facilities and private clubs remain open, the central hub of such places—the clubhouse—is virtually shuttered. Grill rooms, locker rooms, exercise facilities, restaurants and meeting rooms are off limits. Only a club’s kitchen might remain operational to accommodate pick-up or delivery of food for members, which means a lot of hourly full- and part-time workers have been displaced.
But they haven’t been forgotten.
The very people who make the club experience worthwhile are experiencing the benefits of their club associations. Employees are people, and these days, club employees are people who need help from the folks they are used to serving.
“Two things make a club special,” says Dale Moegling, a member and resident at the Country Club of North Carolina in Pinehurst. “It’s the quality of the members and the staff. You can have the greatest course or the best chef in the world, but those mean nothing if you don’t have a connection with the people around you. So in tough times you look out for folks.”
Moegling is one of two coordinators of the Neighbor-to-Neighbor Program that was started several years ago to aid elderly members and residents after yet another severe storm raked the Pinehurst area. Barbara Reining, a widow—but not a golf widow, as she enjoyed the game until a few years ago—got things started by rallying CCNC members to the cause. At 77, Reining alone sees to the needs of nine fellow widows in the community. Moegling and more than a dozen others fan out to assist the less able by delivering food, running errands and driving folks to appointments.
Now they are incorporating assistance to the dozens of workers impacted by the closing of the club. They are finding ways to keep the staff busy with other chores, and they are at the forefront of encouraging members to use the club restaurant at least twice a week for meals that can be picked up or delivered—albeit with a 20-percent markup earmarked for the staff. As a result, no one has been let go.
The group also worked with club management to create its own small market at the club where members and staff can purchase milk, bread, eggs, prepared foods, toiletries and other home essentials that might be hard to find at local groceries in the current economic environment.
“This is not much different than after a hurricane,” Reining said of the ongoing impact of the coronavirus pandemic. “People need help, and we want everyone to feel like they’re important, that someone cares about them. Our employees are special people to us. They know us and we know them, and no one here ever says something can’t be done.”
Across the nation, similar gestures of goodwill and charitable assistance are being extended to the many personnel who keep a club operating but have little or no work to do because golf facilities are closed or are operating with significant restrictions.
Salaried employees at Mistwood Golf Club in Romeoville, Ill., are donating a portion of their earnings to a fund that will be distributed evenly among the hourly paid staff. The Mistwood team also is donating 50 percent of gift-card sales to add to the fund set up for hourly workers.
Similar to the initiative at CCNC, Mistwood’s McWethy’s Tavern, currently closed, is using its connection to vendors to acquire extra bread and milk that employees can purchase at cost.
“We are a family first and foremost, and we support each other, especially in difficult times,” said Mistwood General Manager Dan Bradley. “We are all grappling with the constantly changing COVID-19 situation and a small sliver of generosity might be just the kind of inspiration we could all use right now. We’re committed to taking care of our staff, and, hopefully, setting an example of how one business can make a difference.”
On the other end of the spectrum (and, well, we do mean the other end), the Country Club of Fairfax in Fairfax, Va., is offering free toilet paper in limited quantities to its members, but management is encouraging the members to instead donate $20 per roll to add to an employee relief fund established for the club staff.
In Newtown, Pa., the members of Jericho National Golf Club are taking a different tack. They have requested that their $150 monthly food minimum be given to the club’s employees.
Reassigning employees, or cross-training them, is a plan enacted by many clubs to keep their staffs working—and earning income. This has enabled The Cliffs and Kiawah Island Club in South Carolina, both owned by South Street Partners, to keep their 1,100 seasonal personnel employed.
At Tedesco Country Club in Marblehead, Mass., the club’s bartender and chef staff are working with the grounds crew on course maintenance. Similar moves have been made at the Country Club of Louisiana in Baton Rouge, La., where inside staff have been repositioned to support both golf and tennis facilities.
Likewise, at Daniel Island Club in Charleston, S.C., indoor employees who have lost hours have been given other jobs, from disinfecting every corner of the facility to helping with general maintenance on the course. Further, the club is looking into raising additional money to augment take-home pay that still might come up short of their regular wages.
Caddie programs are integral to the golf experience at many clubs, so, naturally, some efforts are geared towards supporting caddies who find themselves out of work, even as the clubs themselves continue to make golf available, albeit with a lot of modifications to ensure recommended social distancing and safe hygiene practices.
Whisper Rock, the famed private club in Scottsdale, Ariz., that boasts a number of members with PGA Tour status, encourages the use of caddies, even though there are strict rules in place that prohibit them from performing their normal duties to avoid physical contact with golfers.
At Pine Tree Golf Club in Boca Raton, Fla., members are simply passing the hat for their caddie crew. The goal, said Brent Langley, is to raise $25,000 initially and then adjust if more is needed. “The caddie program is important to the club, and we want to do what we can to sustain them through these times,” Langley wrote in an email. “I’m sure this is going on at a lot of clubs.”
Dan Hubbert and Matt Sinnreich, members at Wilshire Country Club in Los Angeles, likely have set the bar for support of their out-of-work caddies. The two men started a GoFundMe page and sent an email to all of the club’s golf members hoping to raise $60,000. After just five days, they have $70,000, enough to replace the caddies’ lost income for approximately four to six weeks. And they’re not stopping.
“I’m really proud of the way the membership responded and came together to do a really neat thing,” Hubbert said. “These guys [the caddies], they have families. They have no other source of income; it’s gone to zero because they’re not allowed to be here.”
Hubbert said a similar GoFundMe page was being set up at Southern Highlands in Las Vegas, another club at which he is a member. “I hope this catches on at a lot of other clubs,” he said. “This is about taking care of the people who take care of us on the golf course.”
It’s about taking care of people, period.