March 2020. A month unlike any we have encountered.
Life changed. Golf — and more important things — stopped in many places.
How did you feel about the industry’s short- and long-term future back then? Nervous? Depressed? Or were you too busy to ponder life beyond the current day?
Two years later, we have learned plenty about ourselves, the industry and golf’s place in society.
Nobody fully comprehended what we were facing in March 2020. Yet some “industry experts” jumped on social media and told followers:
- “It’s certain that some portion of the facilities that are closed now won’t ever reopen.”
- “I’m betting golf is done for the season.”
- “... based upon what I see/hear, too many golfers are not complying with basic rules of safe distance; this could soon ruin it for everyone.”
The lessons are simple: Listen to those you trust and demonstrate patience when facing the unknown.
Facilities that immediately furloughed workers are still playing catchup in a brutal labor market for employers. The overwhelming majority of golfers complied with protocols implemented in March 2020 and golf safely played on without media shaming. Now that we’re two years removed from the start of the pandemic, we’re learning that changing lifestyles and recreational habits sparked by COVID-19 might have saved hundreds of teetering golf facilities.
And the “expert” who was betting on golf being done for the 2020 season? Hopefully they had Collin Morikawa, Bryson DeChambeau and Dustin Johnson in a 2020 major championship trifecta to cover their losses.
Remote work is the best thing for golf since …
Changing work habits are benefiting golf more than any pandemic-related factor. LinkedIn chief economist Karin Kimbrough told “60 Minutes” earlier this year that one in seven jobs in the United Sates is now remote. The pre-pandemic number was around 1 in 67, according to Kimbrough.
In 2019, the average one-way commute in the United States was 27.6 minutes, according to the Census Bureau. Give people close to an hour of their day back and — voilà! — more time exists to play or practice golf.
A longtime superintendent in a major metropolitan area, where the average one-way commute is much longer than 27.6 minutes, recently told me: “We have seen members out here on weekdays the last two years that we once only saw on weekends.”
For many golfers, walking beat no golf, so they accepted it when it was the only way some states permitted play in the early stages of the pandemic. Since then? Cart paths, rough, fairways and even approaches get more tire traffic than a rural road.
Once viewed as a temporary protocol to keep golf optically viable in spring 2020, single-rider carts have become begrudgingly accepted at some facilities. Double the tire traffic. Double the potential turf issues. Rick Woelfel covers this topic and other agronomic realities since March 2020 in the “Two years of heavy play” feature on page.
Earlier this year, my wife and I played Mountain Shadows, a spectacular short course in Paradise Valley, Arizona. A compact layout didn’t stop the carts. We were the lone walkers on the packed course. If players aren’t opting to walk a 2,310-yard course on a sunny, 68-degree afternoon in January, it’s a strong sign, sadly, that golf will likely never return to a walking-dominant activity in the United States.
Entertainment ranges, simulators and training centers are moving into vacated indoor and outdoor retail space. Golf has experienced a net gain of 800,000 new players the past two years, according to the National Golf Foundation. Anything that keeps the newbies engaged with the game, especially during winter, represents a positive for the industry.
Norms and visions are being recreated at a breakneck pace for an industry that typically evolves at tortoise speed.
Eight holes or 18. 2,500 yards or 7,100. Khakis or athletic pants.
Golf has never felt less stuffy. It’s never been more inclusive.A lot has changed in just two years.