It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, it was the age of (baseless internet) wisdom, it was the age of foolishness, it was the epoch of (dis)belief, it was the epoch of incredulity…
With a few “light” edits, Charles Dickens’ opening paragraph in A Tale of Two Cities wonderfully describes our current world living inside the COVID-19 hellhole. This global disaster is unlike anything we’ve seen in our lifetimes, but you already know that. The constant rhetoric and “news” is so inescapable it’s probably reached Ted Kaczynski’s cabin by now.
There are a couple things we know at this point. One, the impact of the Coronavirus pandemic will be vast and sobering. Two, in some way shape or form our lives will look at least slightly different on the other side of recovery and a return to normalcy. The question we can’t answer is what exactly does a new normal look like? It will assuredly mean different things for different people depending on life circumstances. But what will it look like for golf? More specifically, what sort of changes and lasting effects will COVID-19 bring to the game and routine of the everyday muni or club player? In a game notoriously suspect to transformation, is it somehow possible there will be no tangible difference?
It’s hard to justifiably posit that golf will experience no adjustments given the magnitude of this quake and the aftershocks which are rapidly approaching. Time and monotony are currently in great supply, answers, however, are not. From my point-of-view in this rental home bunk bed, which has doubled as my office for the last month, there are a number of changes we might see in the post-Corona golf world.
Reduced Cart Usage
Given the social distancing measures in place, the vast majority of courses which have remained open are offering carts for single riders or the option to walk. In some cases, walking is the only available option. Having played one round of golf (alone) throughout this experience, I was dumbfounded at the number of people I saw walking. I’d estimate that a minimum of 70% of the golfers on the 7,000+ yard public course, were carrying or pushing their bags; forgoing their standard electric chariot. Were they merely being cautious? Did they just need the exercise? It doesn’t matter. Some portion of golfers who typically auto-select a cart will likely reconnect with the simple pleasures and benefits of walking over riding. If any good comes from this mess, let it be this.
Country Club Discounts
The financial ramifications of COVID-19 will a have long-lasting impact on the global and domestic economy. Much like the financial crisis of 2008, the downstream consequences of unemployment and income reduction spells disaster for most private (and public) clubs. After speaking with a Superintendent from an extremely well-off club, they noted that the most elite clubs have little to worry about. On the flip side, mid to lower-end clubs who already operate on tight budgets are shaking in their DryJoys. Corporate outings are a critical revenue source for most clubs. The majority of those scheduled in the first half of the season have been either cancelled or postponed. Put this on top of lost food and beverage revenue, guest fees, cart fees, shop sales, member resignations etc. and the topline numbers start to look frightening in short order. The outcome of the latest economic downturn likely presents itself in the form of exceptional deals on initiation fees, financing options and trial memberships. Clubs who were already on the brink may turn to a semi-private or fully-public status to stay afloat.
Growing the Game
Despite much of the Northeast, Midwest and West regions of the country enforcing mandatory course closures, a large swath of courses remain open across the United States. Given the relative lack of alternative entertainment and recreational options, it’s fair to assume that “non-golfers” may choose to tag along (hopefully at a safe distance) with family or friends for nine holes or a trip to the driving range. This assumption is largely based off activity and utilization of local tennis courts. I recently drove to five different high school tennis facilities over the weekend, only to find every single one of them was being used. Well over 35 courts with 100% occupency, many of which were unquestionably not typical weekend players. People are trying out activities they might normally overlook, some of them will stick with it and golf will see some level of growth from exposure to new entrants (but may be offset by lack of discretionary income).
Stay-at-home orders and a loss of revenue mean most courses are currently operating with a fraction of the crew they normally require. One local club in the Mid-Atlantic area is currently maintaining the grounds, normally kept in immaculate condition, with a staff of five which includes the Superintendent. Most maintenance has been reduced to only the most essential responsibilities (i.e., maintaining greens). A potential takeaway from this unusual time period is the realization that certain activities such as overly maintaining native areas or preserving course features purely for aesthetics is an unnecessary use of time and resources. At a minimum, this is an opportunity for courses to learn how to do more with less; a practice they are well versed in, now being pushed to the limits.
Practicing at Home
Despite a shaky short game, putting stats fit for the blind and a serious issue consistently controlling swing tempo, I don’t practice at home. It’s mostly an issue of space and partially a lack of trusting anything will transfer on turf. Regardless, there’s a large contingent of golfers who do all kinds of practicing within the confines of their home or backyard. If social media is any indication, the home practice industry has exploded during lockdown. Many retailers have been sold out of their most popular products and are scrambling to get inventory to fill the demand. While some of these gizmos will ultimately find a dusty grave in the garage, plenty of golfers will continue their newly adopted routines when they find a few spare minutes.
Bag Accessories: After tossing a hand sanitizer on my bag strap as a precautionary measure, I’ll likely adopt this extra item into my bag on a regular basis. Virus or not, golf can be a dirty game and having the option to get a quick handwash of sorts was probably something I should’ve done a long time ago.
Leave The Flagstick: A sizable portion of the golf population has already started leaving the pin in while putting. With that said, we’ve all run into the guy who wants to take it out, you might even be that guy. Now that we’ve been required to leave the flag in, I’d guess some percentage of the “pull the pin” crew will become converts.
High-Fives & Handshakes: The CDC has hinted at the idea of handshakes becoming a societal relic. Personally, I find it hard to fathom this custom disappearing so easily. Shaking hands is deeply engrained in both our culture and the game of golf. If you don’t want to shake hands, that’s fine, I can respect that. Just don’t expect me to be giving you fist bumps all day.
“Pards”: This has nothing to do with Coronavirus but for the love of God can people stop referring to their partner as “pards”? (S/O Slag) – It drives me nuts for an unexplainable reason, the same way it does when soccer moms use the term “kiddos.”
Thanks for reading and stay safe – OTC