‘COPING WITH COVID’ – THE BANYAN GOLF CLUB EXPERIENCE

The havoc wreaked by Covid-19 on tourism businesses in Hua Hin has been devastating to many; not only hotels, resorts, restaurants and bars.  Operators of associated businesses such as taxis, massage and souvenir shops and musicians have all felt the pain.  Many of these businesses are now closed, some permanently, others are still hoping that the end is in sight.

But the hospitality scene also includes a most important part of Hua Hin’s appeal to tourists, the renowned regional golf courses.  Golf is much more than a sport; enjoying the course hospitality, before, during and after the game is part of the complete golfing experience.  As Stuart Daly, Director of Operations at Banyan Golf Club, says “during the time when restrictions meant golfers just registered, played and went straight home, we couldn’t offer the full Banyan experience, and a huge part of their day was missing.”

'COPING WITH COVID' – THE BANYAN GOLF CLUB EXPERIENCE

The Royal Coast Review spent time with Stuart to understand how Banyan has been coping with Covid; it’s been a saga showing resilience, care and caution, but there’s also been some pain along the way and despite players on course, Covid is still casting a shadow over the operations.

Stuart also has a personal story to tell.  When a government order forced courses nationwide to close in 2020, he took the opportunity to take an overdue vacation and travelled back to his homeland of Ireland.  What followed was a serious Covid infection, two weeks in hospital, including time on a ventilator.  At that time he had only received a single vaccination dose.  He says “I became very sick very quickly, and was soon in a hospital ward with people suffering and some deaths.  That’s an experience that really reinforced my understanding of the need for Covid protection, including the need for full vaccinations.”

Fortunately, he also recovered very quickly and his Covid experience is now just a distant bad memory.  But as the current manager of Banyan’s Covid SHA PLUS program, Stuart has a personal reason for Banyan to follow the necessary precautions.

'COPING WITH COVID' – THE BANYAN GOLF CLUB EXPERIENCE

Despite Stuart and the complete course management and staff, led by General Manager Stacey Walton, being determined to follow the best Covid-safety advice, in April this year Banyan had a Covid-encounter, one that any business can face. 

A positive test result from a single staff member in early April meant another course closure, a complete sanitation process and the immediate testing of all staff members.  That rapid response produced the result everyone had hoped for.

On April 15th GM Stacey made a public announcement, especially to Banyan Members; “we would like to update you that we have received the results of all our 162 Banyan staff who were tested last week and ALL tests have returned negative.  This is a great result and tells us that the SHA approved COVID-19 prevention protocols we have initiated in cooperation with Be Well (Medical Centre) and followed at Banyan Golf Club Hua Hin since early in 2020 significantly reduced the threat of infection.

But of course, we cannot completely eradicate the ongoing threat of the virus spreading further.  We urge you to please follow all government and medical guidelines in terms of personal hygiene, social distancing and the wearing of face masks in public. We want to ensure that we all stay safe during these testing times and we will contribute to do this by strictly following and enforcing the aforementioned protocols.”

'COPING WITH COVID' – THE BANYAN GOLF CLUB EXPERIENCE

Golf course closure means a dramatic fall in revenue with Banyan needing to take reluctant steps to weather the storm.  Some casual staff were lost and salary reductions imposed.  A decision was made for the biggest reductions applying to the highest salary earners.  Banyan prides itself for staff retention over many years, including Stuart and Stacy who have been in place for around fourteen years.

Banyan’s 175 caddies are in a category of their own with their earnings based on rounds completed.  When the course was closed their income disappeared, a vital income which supports family members and their broader community. 

Fortunately Banyan has long maintained a ‘Caddie Fund’ for emergency situations.  There was an appeal to Members for support with the Banyan group and Blue Lotus Hua Hin also boosting the Fund. Stuart revealed that one unnamed donor provided an additional 150,000 THB.

Banyan is able to proudly display the SHA PLUS logo

'COPING WITH COVID' – THE BANYAN GOLF CLUB EXPERIENCE

One important step in compliance with Covid-safety protocol meant an application, inspections and then official recognition by way of Thailand’s Safety and Health Authority certification.  Banyan is able to proudly display the SHA + logo.  One of the requirements is the full vaccination of 70% of the staff, although there’s been a 100% vaccination of all staff including caddies and maintenance workers long before SHA+ certification was achieved.

The current ‘new normal’ for Banyan still poses some issues.  This includes single golf buggy occupancy, but it’s the after-game nineteenth hole social side of the game remaining essentially alcohol-free that raises eyebrows.  As a centre for Banyan’s after-game social scene, Mulligan’s Pub remains closed; toasting the day’s winners just isn’t the same.

This problem is being faced by the many regional golf courses which are located outside the designated ‘Blue Zone’ which means no alcohol service is permitted. Achieving SHA+ Certification has not meant any special consideration.

'COPING WITH COVID' – THE BANYAN GOLF CLUB EXPERIENCE

As a ‘case study’ of a regional hospitality business coping with Covid, the Banyan Golf Course experience is not one that the management has relished but there have been valuable lessons learnt.   

One lesson that government may also have leant is that outdoor activities are much safer than spending time in an enclosed environment.   

Every golfer knows that it’s a good idea to stay two club lengths away from other players to avoid being the victim of an unexpected practice swing.  That form of social distancing is just one reason why golf is such a great form of safe recreation in Covid times, even if you can’t enjoy a beer after the game!