Golf in a Pandemic: 1 Year Later

Golf in a Pandemic: 1 Year Later

This week marks one year since we realized that this pandemic was something serious and our world was about to change. I was on a buddies golf trip to St. Augustine and just a few miles from our condo they cancelled play after 36 holes at The Players Championship. We sat there playing cards, drinking cocktails, and listening to the TV. That TV, along with alerts on our phones, seemed to come through with a new virus related report or story every 5 minutes. Tom Hanks had it. The NBA and NHL postponed their seasons. All hell was breaking loose. We looked at each other and kinda laughed. “Should we go home?” we asked each other. Our wives were back north stockpiling paper goods with riot gear on.

We had tee times the next day at King & The Bear at World Golf Village. I just shot 76 at Slammer & Squirer, hit 11 fairways in my first round of the year, and was feeling decent about the next few days. While the rest of the world was in a panic, Florida was being, well…Florida. No chaos at the grocery stores, status quo at restaurants, no masks. But this situation was extremely new and nobody knew what was to come. I didn’t think we’d shut down and I’d work from home for all of April and May. I didn’t think my wife and I would test positive in November, 2 weeks before Thanksgiving. I didn’t fathom still wearing masks as I sit at my desk and type this; one year later. And sadly, I never thought I’d have close friends lose loved ones in the months to come.

The next day, Florida decided to get serious with the rest of the globe and announced that Disney World was shutting down on Sunday. That meant my buddy and I got to share the Orlando airport with 100,000 irate kids, screaming because their trip to the Magic Kingdom was cut short. We survived. Masks and Lysol was a plenty on this flight home.

In the next few weeks golf courses shut down, reopened, shut down, and then reopened again under strict health protocols. Walking was encouraged but it was one rider to a cart unless the course invested in a divider. You paid at the window of the pro shop and you couldn’t buy a hot dog. Foam noodles were placed in the cups, you had to leave the pin in, and they stole our rakes and ball washers. But we were playing golf, and social distanced golf is still one of the greatest gifts ever bestowed upon humanity.

Golf was our saving grace in 2020 and the one positive from an extremely dismal time in our lives. People who already played the game played more. And when softball and flag football leagues were cancelled, those people picked up the game and bought clubs. Every day we received word of a surge in positive cases and heartbreaking deaths. The four majors were cancelled and at the time, we didn’t know if they would ever be played. Major League Baseball squeezed the rest of their season into September and the NFL started with zero fans. Concerts were cancelled and movie theaters closed. We literally couldn’t do anything but stream Netflix and play golf. And play golf we did!

Rounds played across the US were up 12% compared to 2019, and some month saw an increase upwards of 35%. Equipment sales reached $2.8 billion, 10% more than 2019 and the most since 2008 with $2.9 billion. The big mystery and million, or should I say billion, dollar question was would this continue? Will the shoe fall off the other foot? If everyone bought new clubs in 2020 what would they buy in 2021? Maybe just shoes, a new bag? Well I’m ecstatic to say it hasn’t slowed a bit. Golf is hotter than ever. Our fittings are through the roof and I had to create a wait list for new students wanting to get lessons. Manufacturer lead times on orders are a few months with some brands and golf bags can’t coax their way onto a container ship from overseas. This is a mixture of a lot of scenarios at play here. Shipping issues and container space, companies operating at less staff still due to the virus, and equipment sales totally destroying forecasted numbers. Did I mention golf was hot?

Looking back, all the decisions to postpone and cancel public events and large gatherings was the right call. We’re not out of the woods yet but there’s glimmers of hope. Little by little fans are starting to be permitted at events and it’s awesome to hear the gallery cheer again. I know there are many economic aspects and fields of business that are struggling and I realize how lucky I am to be part of one that’s thriving. But that wasn’t always the case. The last such golf boom was the emergence of Eldrick Tiger Woods. He brought all walks of life and a new type of player to the game. That surge was short-lived however, mostly due to a sinking economy but most of the new-comers felt golf was too expensive, too time-consuming, and not welcoming. The amount of new courses built outnumbered the players to play them, and over the last 5 years began to close.

Golf is in a good spot and there’s nothing like it. It’s a game for a lifetime and it will keep you in good health, and for the most part, good spirits. Try and introduce one person to the game this year…your spouse, a co-worker, the kid who mows your lawn. Invite them to join your league or take them with you to the driving range next time. Let’s keep this train on the tracks and chugging along.

Fantasy Picks Back where the mayhem began, TPC at Sawgrass. The course that rewards no certain type of player as the shortest guy in the field has just as good a chance as the longest guy. Winner Collin Morikawa No weaknesses for this course to expose and playing like the #1 player in the world. Will contend Viktor Hovland Like Tony Finau, he literally has a chance to win every week. Sleeper Will Zalatoris Recorded his tour-leading 5th top-10 last week at API. Could be the first player since Tim Clark to win their first appearance at TPC.

Enjoy the game and each other,

Seth Zipay – Head Golf Professional

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