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Chester range owner staying positive amidst pandemic

IT GOES without saying that the Covid-19 pandemic has been an absolute disaster for the golf industry.

And for the owner of a driving range in Chester, the actual timing of the coronavirus outbreak couldn’t have been any worse.

Scott Booth, and his wife Alison, set up the Chester & North Wales Golf Academy in 2017 and have spent the last three years gradually increasing footfall at their Bretton-based facility.

“It was a tough first couple of years, but the wet winter meant lots of golf courses were closed so we picked up quite a lot of new customers who were still keen to keep their game in shape on the range,” explained Scott.

“Business was good and we’d just completed a shop extension and had plans in place to add an indoor putting green in the section of the shop that was previously a coffee area. The weekend before we went into lockdown had been busy and it was working quite well in that we were sanitising the baskets and leaving all the doors open so the customers didn’t need to touch anything, but by the Monday, Alison and I were chatting about the moral issue of remaining open, then, that evening, Boris Johnson announced the lockdown to all non-essential business so we closed the doors that night.

“We came back the next morning to grab some bits and bobs and to check the place was securely locked up and, other than some bits of essential maintenance like keeping the grass cut, we’ve not been able to do anything since.

“It was a bit of a triple whammy in that we lost income from no range balls been hit, no retail been done and no lessons to give. We’re still having to pay the full rent to the farmer who we lease the land from so it’s going to be a tough few months.

“Alison and I were due to go on holiday to Majorca this week for six days with a couple of friends so obviously that’s been cancelled, so that was another blow,” said the 44-year-old.

It’s not all been negative for the former Cheadle and Chester golf club professional. “We have been given 12 months grace on the business rates, which will be a big help.

“The driving range was saturated with all the rain we had this winter so we were ball collecting on a daily basis to keep the number of ball losses down to a minimum. The break has actually allowed the ground to dry out a lot and has meant we have been able to relax a little and catch up on a bit of sleep.

“I like to be busy so at home I have been hitting a few balls in a net in the back garden, I have done a bit of online golf tuition study, a bit of research and a couple of webinars with other pros.

“I’ve brought all my teaching equipment up from the range so when the weather gets a bit warmer I’ll be using my 3D system, my laptop and my launch monitor out in the garden.”

The Manchester United fan added: “I have also done some DIY at home so the house is immaculate.”

It’s also been a chance to grab some quality family time together for the close-knit Booth family.
“My son Jenson is back from John Moores University in Liverpool and my daughter Hollie is working from home so we have had some additional time together, particularly last week when the weather was so nice and we could sit outside and have a few drinks and play cards.”

Despite been closed for just over a week, Scott is already chomping at the bit to get back to “normality”.

“I can’t see it being until May at the earliest, but more likely June before there is any chance of us re-opening. We’re raring to go again already. When we do re-open there will be all new range balls, the shop is now much bigger and there are plans to continue expanding.

“We’re keeping positive and seeing this break as a chance to re-charge our batteries. We’ll be cleaning everything once we get the green light and the place will look brand new. It’ll almost be like our opening day three years ago all over again.”

Images of Scott Booth and his deserted range and shop.