The COVID-19 coronavirus has certainly turned our world upside-down. Multiple businesses were forced to closed, including golf courses, when most American governors mandated that “nonessential” businesses do so. A philosophical point can be made that there are no businesses that are non-essential, because all businesses are essential to the owners that own them, employees who depend on their paychecks and the customers who rely on the products and services those businesses provide.

Gatherings of over 10 people were also either discouraged or declared illegal as government officials moved into action to try to stop the spread of the coronavirus. That effectively ended professional sports in the United States for a considerable period of time, including golf on the PGA Tour. The first round of The Players was completed in March when the Tour decided that it was not feasible to continue play and  wound up canceling the tournament. Other events were either canceled or postponed, as well.

After three months of being shut down, the PGA Tour started play again on June 11 at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth, Texas, and going forward, the experience will certainly be different for players and fans alike. For one, there actually will be no fans for the first four events; not even players’ families will be allowed on-site. It takes approximately 2,500 people to make a PGA Tour event happen, but the Tour plans to try to run with around 1,000 extra personnel at the venue. Virus testing will not be possible for everyone due to logistics, but screenings and questionnaires will be the norm.

Caddies will be required to clean the flagsticks and bunker rakes after they handle them, and both players and caddies are expected to sanitize their hands after the playing of each hole. Players are encouraged to pull the clubs out of the bag and return them without the caddie touching them. Players are also going to be the only ones allowed to pick their ball out of the hole. Both players and caddies will be tested for the virus before each event, and any player returning a positive test will be forced to withdraw from the tournament. Masks will also be provided for any player, caddie and essential personnel at the course.

A charter plane will also be made available to players and caddies alike, and only those who test negative for the virus within 24 hours of  departure will be allowed to board. Players and caddies are expected to all stay at the same hotel, basically sequestered there with no travel outside the hotel except to the golf course. This includes staying in the hotel for all meals and not going out to a restaurant to eat.

Frankly, while these guidelines seem reasonable to the extent that stopping the spread of the virus is the main focus, they ignore the realities of human behavior. Expecting touring professionals to never leave the hotel unless they are going to the golf course might work for a week or two, but undoubtedly most players will tire of this forced routine of boredom. If their families are not allowed to be with them at the course, you can be sure that many players will skip the post-round practice routines that are prevalent and head straight back to the hotel to be with their families. However, not being able to take the little ones to a park, playground, etc., might weigh on the minds of the players and their spouses, and we could see some players deciding to stay home until things return more to normal.

Expecting players and caddies to sanitize their hands and anything on the course they might touch seems a bit unreasonable, too. Golf is being played all across the country, and currently there are no reports of players falling ill from being at the course. Epidemiologists who have weighed in have said that golf is one of the safest possible activities to engage in, and that’s even with our former way of doing things. And it’s seriously doubtful that any player will be playing with any sort of mask or face covering, although it’s possible that you might see some of the more physically compromised caddies doing so. However, various health experts have said that contracting the environment in an outdoor  setting is extremely unlikely, so it will be interesting to see how many people on our television screens will be wearing them.

What will happen when fans are eventually allowed to return? That’s anyone’s guess. If we see corporate hospitality tents, they almost  certainly will be of limited capacity so the guests can maintain social distancing of six feet or more apart from each other. Bleachers may exist, but sections or seats may be cordoned off so people aren’t sitting less than six feet apart. But then again, we might not see any hospitality  tents or bleachers. We’ll just have to wait and see what happens with the first few events where fans are allowed.

When will things return completely to “normal”? Again, that’s anyone’s guess. Current reports at the time of this writing say a vaccine is at least 18 months away (which would be late 2021), and maybe much longer than that. With the current emphasis having shifted from  “flattening the curve” so hospitals didn’t get overrun to “let’s keep the number of cases as low as possible for as long as possible” until a  vaccine is developed, it’s possible nothing resembling normalcy might not happen for years.

That would be most unfortunate, but given the vagaries of human behavior, combined with the fact that forcing people into artificial  behaviors for an extended period of time are not likely to work, we could well see a sea of change in the way both ordinary citizens and our authority figures want to handle this. Also, with research from the Stanford University School of Medicine, the University of Southern  California/Los Angeles County Department of Public Health, the University of Bonn in Germany and Oxford University in England, among others, showing the infection fatality rate of the virus isn’t nearly as severe as first thought, there are some encouraging signs that not only golf, but life in general, may return to normal sooner than we may think possible at present.

Copyright © 2020 United States Golf Teachers Federation, All Rights Reserved
200 S. Indian River Drive, Suite #206, Fort Pierce, FL 34950
772-88-USGTF or 772-595-6490 - www.usgtf.com