Golf played on.
It played on as a pandemic interrupted every facet of American life. By the time the National Golf Foundation released its ninth COVID-19 report, 97 percent of our glorious courses were open. Even decision-makers who sought every reason, using anything but reason, to keep golf courses closed had relented.
The golf might have been different – no handshakes, bunker rakes or opportunities to gather at the 19th hole – and offered less revenue-generating opportunities. But safe and responsible golf was being played in all 50 states by mid-May.
This month’s cover story by managing editor Matt LaWell describes what the industry has achieved since COVID-19 started affecting lives and businesses. The stories are remarkable.
From superintendents working solo to keep prized acreage viable to leaders making calculated cases for golf in states laced with political pitfalls, the industry coalesced and adapted to ensure enthusiasts and newbies had somewhere to go when they needed it the most. Adapt is what the people who maintain golf courses do best. Along the way, they implemented a slew of innovative practices.
Pros, general managers and members hopped on intimidating mowers to help short-staffed turf teams. Association leaders communicated more than ever, creating safety guidelines and programs to support workers. Small and big companies manufactured safety products and offered assistance to the communities they serve. Researchers and partners solved problems for superintendents from afar.
Without the coordination, cooperation and consideration, golf courses would have remained empty, like playgrounds, fitness centers and ballfields. Instead, open courses were packed, as golfers quickly marched from the parking lots to tees. Spacing reigned over congestion. Lingering will eventually return. For at least one spring, golfers were urged to avoid locker rooms, pro shops, dining rooms, patios and practice areas. The overwhelming majority complied. Golf escaped serious social media shaming.
Course openings dipped to 44 percent the week of April 5. They surged to 79 percent by the week of May 3. Safe sights and sound decisions reopened courses in states where golf faced political tussles. Fortunately, maintenance continued in those states, minus a short stretch in Minnesota. Unfortunately, many superintendents were forced to trim personnel and budgets.
Work-life balance and attracting new talent dominated the industry discourse when 2020 commenced. Keeping employees and customers properly spaced and courses maintained amid a global pandemic never factored into the plan.
Stories from the spring of 2020 will resonate for years and define careers. Our cover story represents a small sampling of the industry sacrifice and solidarity. Expect to read similar stories in the back nine of this year and beyond.
Unlike natural disasters, which are devastatingly regionalized occurrences, issues and uncertainty stemming from COVID-19 affect the entire industry. They will continue to imperil operations. Courses will close; jobs will be lost. Dedicated employees are already emotionally and physically drained.
The sacrifice and solidarity, though, has provided hope and a safe release for millions. On two consecutive spring Sundays, golf raised $25 million for COVID-19 relief efforts via a pair of televised events. The industry will raise millions more whenever charity outings resume.
Competitors such as Tiger, Phil, Rory and DJ, participants in those televised events, are typically associated with golf’s greatest moments. When somebody reflects on 2020, they will remember how golf responded to a pandemic. This spring transcended any shot or victory. The roars are silent. The results are miraculous.
Good luck finding a greater golf moment.