Before we begin, one housekeeping note: There is an argument to be made that not a single good thing has come out of the COVID-19 pandemic. Many people have lost loved ones, many people have lost their livelihoods and many people are understandably struggling with their mental health during this depressing time in history. In no way would we ever attempt to make light of this mess.
But the fact remains that for the sport of golf, the pandemic has been (gulp) a net positive. Would the world be much better off without the pandemic, and golf merely plodding along as usual? Even we’d say yes to that. But golfers have benefitted from the current situation in a number of ways.
To cap off 2020, we came up with a list of the best things for golfers to come out of the pandemic, some that could be here to stay in 2021 and beyond. Put your glass-half-full caps on, folks.
Not only do we have statistics to back this up (in July, golfers played 10 million more rounds than they did a year ago, according to Golf Datatech), it passed the eye test. Whether you belong to a private club or play at a local muny, it was nearly impossible to get a tee time this past summer and fall. There were more women and more kids than ever—trends that we can all get behind—and many young adults who’d be occupying themselves in a variety of ways during normal times decided to give golf a shot. For a sport that less and less people were playing due to a number of reasons (time, money, etc.), this past summer and fall was a massive turn of events.
Once people realized golf was among the few legitimate activities to try during the height of the pandemic, they also came to realize it was a great way to exercise. Walking burns more calories than you’d think—an 18-hole round is give or take the equivalent of walking five miles—not to mention you are doing it while enjoying the fresh air and the scenery. Push carts, considered taboo among some particularly in the U.S., are now the norm. Most importantly, walking allows you to keep a safe social distance. As golfers, we all benefitted from learning to love to walk again.
The ‘quick nine’ returns
Among the reasons the sport was seen to be in decline before the pandemic was the simple fact that finding four-plus hours (emphasis on the plus) to play 18 holes was too difficult. The USGA’s Play9 initiative was a good attempt at trying to get people rethinking what a round of golf means, but for those working 9-to-5, plus a long commute, sneaking in nine wasn’t easy, either. With the pandemic forcing many to work from home, it allowed golfers to get creative with their work hours and find time to sneak out early or late for a few holes or a practice session. Hell, some people got a lot of their work done at the course (at least that’s what my friends are saying), though we wouldn’t encourage this one.
No contact, pre-paid tee times
Nothing stalls the tee sheet at your local course like guys going to the register, checking in, waiting for a ticket, paying, getting their ticket, taking it to the starter, waiting for their name to be called, etc. COVID-19 forced many courses and clubs to adopt a no-contact system where people prepaid and simply showed up to the course on time and ready to roll. This is one of the thing that golfers should make sure sticks around in 2021 and beyond.
Don’t worry about the flagstick or bunker rakes
No only did we play more, we played faster. Two underrated pace-of-play killers in the sport are taking out/putting in the flagstick and raking bunkers. Thanks to COVID-19, golfers have had to adjust, with courses notifying those on the course to leave the flagstick and taking away bunker rakes in order to limit any spread of germs. Of course, this doesn’t mean you shouldn’t be at least foot-raking or neglecting the mess you made in a trap entirely, but it certainly speeds up play when you’re not looking around for a rake and taking forever to rake yourself out. As for the flagstick, some folks will eventually want it back out again, but it has seemingly become the norm to leave it in.
In June, golf and the UFC were the first two sports to return in the pandemic world. That gave sports fans something to watch and, for a growing segment, something to bet on. DraftKings reporting that the TaylorMade Driving Relief skins game in May was “similar to a major” in terms of wagering. The PGA Tour’s first event back in June, the Charles Schwab Challenge, became the most-bet tour event in DraftKings history. Those trends are only continuing, thanks to new partnerships the PGA Tour is forging with groups like IMG Arena, to help make legal betting easier.