Tar Heel Golf Notes

Henry Lister

Golf has always been a mostly solitary pursuit. But this is even more so since COVID-19. The primary defense against the illness has been to keep apart from others, and now we are even more on our own.

Golfers must adapt to conditions to keep themselves and course employees healthy. We have to sacrifice so little considering being on a golf course is about the safest place you can be around other people—as long as we adhere to the restrictions.

Part of the solitary-ness I enjoy in golf is time on the range. The truth is I’m not a technical ball striker. I don’t know where my hands are at the top of my back swing except they are at the end of my arms. I don’t feel my glutes activating in proper sequence on the down swing.

My entire golf swing is about feel and adjusting my swing to the ball’s flight. Now it is difficult to find my game, and my scores are ballooning. I suspect this is the case for most golfers, and you may share my dismay that most ranges are closed. It’s just as well that amateur competitions have been suspended to keep me from embarrassing myself.

Numerous amateur competitive events have been cancelled through May—local leagues, inter-club play and a number of CGA competitions. Private clubs have postponed or canceled their member-guest events. Charities will not hold fundraising events because golf courses can not hold events with large numbers of people.

The professional circuits are also on hiatus. The LPGA just moved their potential restart back a month. The PGA is anxious about lost TV money and is willing to start the PGA Tour without galleries in mid-June. The US Open and Ryder Cup are scheduled on back-to-back weekends. The Masters Invita­tional is slated for November. The Open is cancelled outright. All this of course is contingent on a virus-free fall.

Golf travel is down over 80% despite a pre-COVID-19 in­crease of 6% in bookings. Yet for the remainder of 2020 many major golf packagers are saying golfers are continuing with plans they made in the winter. And for the adventurous optimists, you can negotiate fantastic deals with many resorts for them to keep cash flowing.

Friends and I planned to travel to Ireland this year, but it appears that trip is canceled. None of us had any interest in being quarantined for two weeks in a foreign country, even Ireland. Even with a favorable exchange rate! In addition, my trips to Tampa, Michigan and Connecticut also were cancelled. Like prices for gas, airfares are remarkably affordable. And yet where to go?

Here as well as around the world, there was a time when it was uncertain that courses would be allowed to be mowed even if they were not open. Fortunately, routines were developed to secure the safety of greenskeepers. It was at that point that courses could arrange to be open while instituting safe routines for the pro shop, golfers and maintenance crews. Grill and halfway houses were at first closed, although locally most are carry-out only, like most restaurants. Some courses provide valet style check-in stations.

The economic impact will be difficult to calculate for a few months. Golf margins tend to be thin, so any loss of in­come will place many courses in jeopardy of staying in business. Golf carts are now ferrying one golfer at a time, so half that revenue is lost. Another 8-20% is lost through no equipment sales in and shuttered grills and no beverage carts are circulating. Pros are losing income due to the loss in golf lessons. Given these situations it will be difficult for some courses to remain open and for personnel to remain employed. While most area courses are open, many are not in good condition. Some are losing revenue and have cut back on maintenance—and it shows.

There are foam noodles in the cups, no rakes in bunkers, limited cart use, absent ball washers, no water coolers, no sand bottles to fill divots and no handshakes at the end of a round with your playing companions. In effect, we are playing golf-lite.

The spirit of the game is also suffering. We all miss the sound of a successfully struck putt clattering in the cup. Your opponents ex­pect gimme putts when near the flag. There are accommodations for placing a ball in bunker that comes to rest in a footprint. Amid all the temporary conditions the US­GA has wrestled with the effect all these will have on handicaps. Who cares about your handicap when the specter of contracting a life-threatening virus looms? At this time, it is all about being outside, getting in touch with the earth, listening to the birds, breathing fresh air, and enjoying ourselves. Even if it’s just for half a day.

Hobbit Golfer 2020 index: 11 rounds. Aver­age score 85.6. CGA handicap = 7.1. “It is not the strongest or the most intelligent who will survive but those who can best manage change.”—Leon C. Megginson