Each year for a shade over three decades, the Kevin Haime Golf Centre in Kanata, Ontario has been the beacon for the golf season in Canada’s National Capital region. Their opening day, sometimes in February, but normally near the start of March, is the sign that indicates much-anticipated wanders along fairways are soon to follow.
2020 was no different, but then it was.
The centre, owned and operated by the husband and wife team of Kevin and Lisa Haime, first welcomed customers for the year on March 15. The next day, with the spector of Covid-19 surrounding everything, they closed the doors.
The two months that followed, as it was for many, was a time of uncertainty as they pondered the impact of a forced stoppage in business and began to consider what would lie ahead.
Days and nights of planning brought to light many scenarios, ultimately resulting in the new look they debuted to the public when they were allowed to open again on May 16.
Yes, golfers get to hit balls and watch them fly like normal once they reach the tee deck but the steps to get there and the surrounds are different, all in the name of safety.
Traditionally golfers at the centre would just walk up, buy a buckle of balls, find an open stall and swing away. But that has all changed, and it’s not a negative in many ways; it just different.
Kevin says that people ask how long these changes, among them a system that allows golfers to book their space in advance and by time, rather than the bucket, will last. His now well-worn reply? “I tell people this is our new model. This is the world we live in now; there are changes everywhere you go. At more places we go now things will be a little more organized; they’ll take a little more time; we’re not alone in that as a business.”
Walk up service is still available, but you’ll have to wait for a mat to open.
He compares the adaption to the movie business that for years would see you buy a ticket, wander around in the dark to find a seat, then enjoy the show. Now movies allow you buy your ticket and choose your seat in advance. Film fans soon began to see the advantages, and now it’s the accepted way of doing things.
In both scenarios you can plan ahead and not be disappointed that the place is full when you arrive.
On top of a new way to reserve your practice time, the Haimes have put plenty of measures in place to make their customers feel safe, including a more defined entrance and exit, a socially distanced waiting area, more space between tee spaces, sanitizer stations, and extra staff to monitor the bays and clean between users.
It’s a new normal, and it comes at a cost.
On top of the extra staff to implement procedures, new signage (much of it replacing pre-Covid 19 signs for 2020 that were never installed and had to be scrapped), and reduced customer capacity will impact the bottom line. There is also changes necessary in how many of their other programs and services occur. Club fittings take longer to perform with sanitization of every club component needed during every session and group lessons must have fewer participants to meet provincial guidelines. Individual lessons require more space, and training aid use, a possible contact point, has been largely eliminated.
Safety First But With A Silver Lining
It all sounds daunting but Haime relates that this is the effort they will make to ensure their customers are safe and assure them that their business is one where people can feel at ease at a time when that is a little less present.
A noted result has been a brisk pace of business and plenty of positive customer feedback on the extra steps and adjustments they have been willing to make.
“Like many entrepreneurs, we’re faced with a challenge, a set of problems, and we need to find a way around them,” Kevin shared with Flagstick. “If you find a solution for the problems that actually lead to a better model then it is a win-win for both us and the customers. That is what I think we are hoping is happening.”
The alterations now allow golfers the opportunity to hit as many balls as they want in an hour and or book an under-cover bay with the Top Tracer technology well in advance.
“I think our reservation model, which was set up for Covid protocols, will end up being a fan favourite, I really do. We don’t really know that fully yet. It will take some time, but it is looking that way so far,” he continues.
As they work away in a new reality Haime adds, “We just ask that people be a patient with us as we make these changes. We’re not making all of them because we want to, but some things had to be done. After thirty-one years we have had to re-invent our business model, but I think with some time we think we’ll be actually doing some things to improve for our customers, long term.”
In a time of immense change in all aspects of the world, the golf industry is also evolving, and the adjustments at the Kevin Haime Golf Centre are a prime example of what you’ll witness, in various ways, throughout the region, and beyond.
Choosing whether to like it is not really an option, it’s just something we all have to accept if we want to continue to enjoy golf in the era of the Covid-19 pandemic.
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