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HGC outlook remains positive, despite COVID-19

Masha Scheele
Local Journalism Initiative

Despite current regulations that are keeping eager golfers home, the new director of the Hinton Golf Club is feeling positive and ready to take on the challenge.

While there has been no official announcement about when golf courses in Alberta may be allowed to open to the public, Kyle Crawford is aiming to have the grounds prepped for an opening date of June 1. 

Crawford said that groups like the Alberta Golf, Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA) of Canada and PGA Alberta are trying to work with the government to get golf deemed an essential recreation sport.

Bruce McAllister, spokesperson of Alberta Golf, said they are confident that the Alberta government will be announcing a relaunch of the economy this week and that golf will be a part of the strategy.

“We know we can safely social distance and play golf. We have developed the most thorough and thoughtful new protocol for golf courses to follow when they open. Golf is great for your physical and mental health, and during this COVID-19 Pandemic, we are all recognizing the importance of our mental health. We are excited to be part of the solution and are hopeful that AB golf courses, like those in BC and the USA, will be open soon,” said McAllister.

If they open, Crawford said the Hinton Golf Club would operate under strict guidelines to ensure golfers can maintain their distance from each other and limit their points of contact.

“I am a true believer that golf really is one of the only sports where we can actually follow the guidelines to a tee, versus some other recreational sports like at a pool or skating,” Crawford said.

Golf courses in BC will be open on May 1, while Saskatchewan is following close behind with an opening date of May 15.

“We’re planning to be safe. We’re aiming for a June 1 start on the assumption that things are going to get better here in a few weeks and we’re going to be able to rock and roll,” Crawford said.

Golf courses in Alberta typically open anywhere in the month of April depending on the weather. Even without a pandemic this year, the Hinton course would have had a later start date due to the snow sticking around longer this spring.

“I guess if you’re going to have a pandemic, it might as well be in the year that you were going to open late anyway,” Crawford commented.

Work on the grounds hadn’t started yet on April 24 because crews were waiting for conditions to dry up first. Even if the course won’t be allowed to open all summer, Crawford said grounds staff will still have minimum maintenance to protect the asset and ensure it is in good shape for the 2021 season.

In early March, the club hired all the necessary staff to operate the course throughout the summer, but they are currently on hold.

While the club won’t be able to offer any sit-down food service, Crawford said there will still be a food and beverage component in the form of a seven-day beverage cart service or a halfway house that sells alcohol and food.

Staff is setting up an online prepay system, allowing customers to pay for their tee time ahead of time to avoid the exchange of cash or close contact to the staff member in the Pro Shop. 

Unless golfers are from the same household, they must each take a separate power cart to ensure social distancing, Crawford explained as part of the new rules. Only every other stall at the driving range will be set up for use to increase spacing.

Items like baskets, pull carts, and power carts will be disinfected after every use. 

“We have to make sure what we’re doing is still following the guidelines, we’re doing it in the most efficient manner and that’s solely to create as much profit and revenue as possible by the end of the year,” Crawford said.

The pandemic would have caused a major setback but Crawford is positive that with some major changes and the support of the community that the Hinton Golf Club will pull through.

Since Crawford started working at the club in mid-February, he has put everything into making sure the golf course would be successful this year. Big changes included running the restaurant themselves, instead of through a contractor.

“One of the biggest things that I see why Hinton golf club has struggled in the last couple of years is that they weren’t catering to the people of Hinton,” he added.

He stated that the course was attempting to cater to tourists while they struggled through the past several years. Crawford worked to restructure the rates, allowing residents of Hinton to play the course and not feel like it’s overpriced.

All the rates have dropped and different golf packages will be introduced this year, though memberships will remain the same to stay in line with members who already paid at the end of 2019.

Crawford added that memberships are geared towards 40 rounds, but said that staff will be more involved in helping customers pick a membership package that works for them.

“At the end of the day, I’m here to add value to the customer. And if that customer doesn’t come to our property and feel like they got a value for playing, then we failed,” Crawford said

Before coming to Hinton, Crawford, worked for the Radium Golf Group, which was in a similar financial situation as Hinton’s Golf Club, he said. Taking what he has learned from 20 years in the golf business, he plans to create a friendlier environment at the Hinton Golf Club, with more engaged staff and an added level of service.

“I started here on Feb. 17 and I worked for 38 straight days just on the sole purpose that if this golf course fails, I fail, and I don’t like failing. I will do whatever I have to do in order to make this golf course successful,” Crawford said.

He added that while people may be concerned that the club won’t survive, he wants to assure residents that the club isn’t going anywhere despite the circumstances.

“We’re going to strive to make this golf course very special for the people of Hinton,” he said.