06 Jul 2020 | Golf Australia |

CLAYTON: Ride the boom, we deserve it

by Mike Clayton

Australians are jumping at the chance to play more golf during the pandemic.
Australians are jumping at the chance to play more golf during the pandemic.

Who’d have thought it would take a confounded virus to do what no one since Greg Norman has been able to do?

The golf prophets of doom – and there have been far too many of them – are, along with everyone else, seeing golf boom like never before.

It’s outdoors, seemingly safe and social distancing isn’t a problem if the tee shots of the people I play with are any measure.

Courses are full as so many find there isn’t much else to do in this weird world – not outdoors anyway.

There are anecdotes aplenty evidencing a boom, not just here but in the United States and Britain as well.

Woking, one of my favourite English courses, has had more than 80 membership applications since April. “That’s two years’ worth,” beamed club pro Carl Bianco.

Fraserburgh, (extra points for anyone getting the Australian connection) the seventh oldest club in the world and the oldest north of St Andrews, has, the local paper reports, “seen a boom of 50 new members”.

For anyone heading to Scotland – when next we can, of course – it’s one of those brilliant “second-tier” links you shouldn’t miss. You’ll probably get five games for the price of one at one of the more famous courses and have more fun doing it.

St Andrews Beach, one of the many brilliant courses on the Mornington Peninsula, had more players in June than they did in January at the height of the season and half a dozen extra hours of daylight.

Just as for every other public course reliant on players, the lockdown hurt. But the unprecedented volume of winter play has helped the bottom line immeasurably.

“No local football to play and no crowds allowed at the AFL has really helped us,” manager Adam Hayes said.

If nothing else, it proves golf ‘s old truism that “every shot makes someone happy”. Football’s loss is golf’s gain and we shouldn’t feel bad about it given football has driven every other game out of the sports pages with nary a care.

In another life, Matt Sullivan caddied for me in Europe but came home in search of more reliable employment and finished up as national sales manager for Callaway.

“It’s crazy out there in every category and for every brand. It’s not just clubs, but balls, hats, shoes and bags. Footballers are taking it up because it’s the only sport they can play,” Sullivan said.

One anecdote he recounted was of two blokes in Colac who walked into a golf shop and announced: “We hate golf, but can we have a set of clubs please?!”

The key, of course, is for golf to provide an environment where they grow to not hate it and eventually graduate to at least liking it … then being addicted enough to keep playing and not have the clubs rust in the back of the garage.

Said Sullivan: “Normally our custom club sets take five days to assemble and ship. Now it’s taking 15 and it’s the same at Titleist and across most other brands, too.”

Both have big testing centres in Carlsbad (California) and Sullivan tells of a local public course booking four-balls from seven in the morning until five in the afternoon every day for a month and not having a spare slot.

Nick Arnold is Sullivan’s counterpart at Titleist.

“The first month when we were all locked down was obviously tough for everyone, but since it’s opened up there are lots of people playing and the game has to embrace them and put out the welcome sign,” Arnold said.

“It needs to adapt to people who are time-poor, but lots of people have come to realise what a great game it is.”

Lukas Michel, the US Mid-Am champion, was scheduled to play the Masters in April and last month’s US Open, but instead the 25-year-old Masters of Mechanical Engineering is whiling away his time waiting for Winged Foot in September and Augusta in November by working at MGA, the driving range not far from the heart of Melbourne’s Sandbelt.

“People are walking in and asking to hire clubs, which we can’t do for obvious reasons. They walk out, buy a few clubs from the golf shop near Moorabbin Airport, come back and wait until they can get a bay to hit. We’ve never seen anything like it,” Michel said.

A friend of mine is a member at Sorrento, Victoria and The National. A couple of weekends ago he wanted to play on Saturday and he couldn’t get a game at any of the six golf courses.

His is a first-world problem and don’t feel sorry for him, but it’s a measure of how members have embraced their clubs and made up for the couple of months when the gates of Victorian clubs were closed.

In the United States, a country with a golf culture of driving around courses in little carts, one benefit has been more golf played on foot. Image, such a quaint way to play the game.

Companies making carry bags and selling what we know as “buggies” (push-carts in the US) are seeing unprecedented demand with sales 4-8 times what they were a year ago, one source revealed.

At a time when we all crave to get back to some normality, golf is a game able to create that new normality.

Instead of talking it down, arguing it’s “too slow”, “too hard”, “too expensive”, “too stuffy”, “boring” and a “game for old men”, we can hope people see it’s none of these things.

Rather, it is a game for life, one played for fun, never mastered but where there is always someone worse than you and always someone better.

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