It is great to finally be able to touch base with you all again after the unscheduled break due to the COVID-19 virus. It’s crazy that a name we had never heard of has become such a big part of our world and lives just a few months down the track.
There is no doubt that the past few months have proven to be some of the toughest in history for those involved in the golf industry here in Australia, with golf clubs and facilities across the country being hit hard after being forced to close their doors in March.
After a frustrating few weeks and months with courses and clubhouses locked away, it is uplifting and encouraging to see people getting back out onto the golf course and enjoying the facilities offered by their clubs.
As we are starting to get back to some semblance of the life we lived pre COVID-19, the positive news is that in the past couple of months we have witnessed a resurgence in golf participation numbers across the board, with many clubs also reporting a surge in new member applications.
We can only hope that the strong participation data we are seeing now continues once other sports and leisure options can resume.
Here in Australia, we are extremely fortunate to be enjoying this “new normal” especially considering the scenes which continue to unfold in other countries where golf is still far from many people’s minds.
I think we all realise that we have been much more fortunate than many of our friends across the world who have been hit so hard in terms of numbers of COVID-19 cases and sadly those who lost their lives as a result of the virus.
I have kept in touch with many friends in England, Italy, Spain and the US over the past few months and the stories I have heard from them have been extremely sad and distressing, I feel very grateful to have been at home here in Australia the past few months.
In terms of professional golf, the COVID-19 pandemic has also proved to be devastating.
Of the women’s professional tours, the Korean LPGA Tour was the first to resume in mid-May behind closed doors, and the LPGA Tour of Japan held their first event just last month, again behind closed doors and like the KLPGA with many restrictions in place.
While the PGA Tour resumed in June in the US, the LPGA Tour announced last month that their tour would resume in late July in Ohio, while their developmental tour, the Symetra Tour, will start a week earlier in Michigan.
The China LPGA is looking at a mid-August start to their 2020 tour, while the Ladies European Tour is hoping to re-start at the Scottish Open in mid-August.
As I am writing this none of our members have been able to tee it up as yet after their enforced break, and will be desperately hoping that the tours they are competing on can resume as planned as COVID-19 numbers continue to rise again in many countries across the globe.
For players, life on tour will no doubt be very different from what they have known previously, Frequent COVID-19 testing and also temperature checks will become a regular part of life on tour, as will travelling in a “bubble” with caddies, tour staff and other event stakeholders such as TV crews.
For example, if the Women’s Scottish and British Opens go ahead as planned in August (See side story), players will not be allowed to have a guest onsite with them, only their caddies will be permitted to attend the tournament and all players and caddies will be required to stay in the designated official hotels. Local caddies will not be permitted at either tournament, so unless the player takes their own caddy with them, they will have to carry their own clubs, which on the LPGA Tour is not something you would normally see.
For those players who compete regularly on the smaller developmental tours such as the Symetra Tour in the USA and the LET Access Tour in Europe, the restrictions will in some ways be tougher, as pre-COVID-19 players have relied upon the support of billets and volunteer caddies to keep their expenses to a minimum.
For our Aussie players, I know the enforced break from the game has been frustrating. Most of them do not have the benefit of six- and seven-figure bank accounts, and without sponsorship deals in place have been forced to dig into their savings budgeted for the upcoming season just to get by week to week.
Others have found themselves displaced overseas, keen not to miss out once their tour resumes. I know a couple of our players who had travelled to the US to prepare for their seasons made the decision not to return to Australia when the gravity of COVID-19 became apparent, as they would be required to quarantine for two weeks here and then quarantine again on their return to the US once the tour starts.
For many of our teaching professionals, the past few months have also been a struggle, as has been the case for many golf club employees whether it be clubhouse, course, or green staff.
In many cases, the JobKeeper and JobSeeker schemes have been a saviour for many individuals and businesses in the golf industry.
One of the few positives to come out of the pandemic has been the tremendous collaboration that we have witnessed amongst golf industry stakeholders here in Australia.
It has certainly been a challenging time for all of us, especially for our governing body Golf Australia and our colleagues at the PGA of Australia, as they continue to manage their way through State and Federal Government restrictions around golf which are ever-evolving.
I would like to pay tribute to both Golf Australia and PGA of Australia staff for the way they have managed this process on a national basis, and also to Golf NSW and Golf WA staff for doing the same in their respective states.
Hopefully, next month I will have some more positive news to report on in terms of the professional tours. In the meantime, enjoy being back out on the golf course!