Brora not out of the woods despite £70k from around the world

Brora, the first Scottish golf club to express fear that it “might not exist” beyond the coronavirus closure of courses in the UK, has raised around £70,000 in just over a week after feeling love from all around the world.
The response to president Andy Stewart’s dire warning about the club’s future has attracted a huge response from around the world.The response to president Andy Stewart’s dire warning about the club’s future has attracted a huge response from around the world.
The response to president Andy Stewart’s dire warning about the club’s future has attracted a huge response from around the world.

But, according to club president Andy Stewart, the man who set the alarm bells ringing at the Highlands club, where five-time Open champion Tom Watson is an honorary member, it is “not out of the woods”.

He told The Scotsman: “I think we pretty much need the same again in terms of revenue and then our future becomes a lot clearer.”

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Stewart thought his message posted on social media early last week about the possible impact on the club by the current shutdown of golf was only going to be seen by members.

Instead, it was picked up all over the world, resulting in an incredible show of support for the club, which was founded in 1891 and was one five-time Open winner Peter Thomson’s favourites in Scotland.

People around the globe have either been taking out memberships, making advance bookings or ordering club merchandise through PGA pro Malcolm Murray’s shop.

“I went into the pro shop on Tuesday and literally couldn’t see the floor for parcels,” said Stewart. “It has just been incredible. We created an international life membership and we have also created a platinum membership, which is our highest category allowing access to additional benefits. I think we’ve got four of those now, which is also phenomenal.

“While I am nervous about numbers, it would be reasonable to say that we have managed to raise around £70,000, which is phenomenal.”

Has the widespread feeling of love from the golfing world come as a surprise. “I think we kind of knew it,” he added. “But, when it all comes at once, I think it has been overwhelming for all of us to realise just how well regarded the golf course is. We went live on our website last Friday, since when it has been a bit of a whirlwind, to be honest, in terms of the support we’ve received. It’s really been fantastic.”

All bar three of the staff members have been furloughed as part of a cost-cutting exercise to help the club ride the initial storm, with Stewart insisting choppy waters still lie ahead.

“We have around 600 members, but that is across a wide variety of categories, and it probably includes 100 social members,” he said.

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“We’ve actually got a very small local and playing membership. It is probably around 150 at most and the rest tend to be those further away.

“Our visitor income this year was projected at £350,000, which, for a small Highland golf club, is a big number.

“At this point, we are pretty much working on the premise that we will see very little of that income. “There’s been a little bit of talk about other golf clubs in the area and the reality is that every golf club has its own challenges.

Royal Dornoch are a different beast altogether. They have been successful for long enough that they are able to build up their own reserves.

“There’s one or two other clubs that possibly don’t have the same dependence on visitor income that we have and, for that reason, they are less at risk, I’d day.

“Our problem is that we have gone on this journey where it almost feels as if the world has woken up to Brora and what Brora is.

“We’ve been growing our visitor revenue over the last three years. But, as that interest has grown, so has our investment in the golf course and investment in staff.

“We’ve not had the opportunity of a few years of stability and build up the financial resources.

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“That’s really why we are exposed. If this had come three years from now, I think we’d be in a far stronger position to be able to ride it out.”

What advice would he have for other clubs in Scotland worried about staying in existence?

“That’s a hard one,” admitted Stewart. “Each golf club is different. But, if there are lessons to be learned from ourselves, I guess it’s probably quite obvious that you know what you can do in terms of costs.

“Also, social media is an extremely powerful way to reach out to the wider world and embrace the support that you might not otherwise have or know about, I suppose.”

While it is probably only a matter of time, honorary member Watson has not yet been in touch with the club. “We sent a communication out to all our members and I would hope he has received that,” said Stewart.

“I am reluctant at the moment to try and reach out, but we will do at some point. We just need to find a reasonable way to do so.”

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