News & Opinion

Golf pulls together for coronavirus relief

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Ernie Els (clockwise, from top left), Brooks Koepka and the PGA of America’s Seth Waugh play leading roles in golf’s various initiatives to counter the effects of coronavirus, while Full Swing Custom Apparel and Seamus Golf convert to mask production.

Industry initiatives vary among governing bodies, manufacturers, touring pros and others, with one common goal: lend a hand during an extraordinarily difficult time

No other sport has given more to charity than has golf.

Professional tournaments, often organized as charitable events, are held around the world, with one of the primary objectives to support local charities.

When an area endures a natural disaster, individual players often rush to get involved to support relief efforts. Some of the most notable have been the leadership of Kelly Gibson and David Toms after Hurricane Katrina ravaged New Orleans and the Gulf Coast in 2005 and the efforts of Ryuji Imada to support residents of his native Japan after the 2011 earthquake and tsunami.

They are just two of the many acts of kindness initiated by prominent golfers, but they represent a wider push to use golf for the greater good. Similar efforts have been launched in recent days and weeks to counter the effects of the coronavirus pandemic, which has suspended tournament play for the past month and idled millions of workers, including at least a few hundred thousand in the golf industry. The efforts go far beyond raising money.

No one has been immune from a respiratory disease that has stricken nearly 2 million worldwide, led to 125,000-plus deaths and virtually halted the global economy.

That support has been extended not only to the first responders and health-care workers but also to golf-industry workers who have been caught in the downdraft.

On Monday, the PGA of America announced the Golf Emergency Relief Fund to help not only its 28,000 members but other industry workers. The fund is focused on helping those involved in golf, with broad eligibility: touring professionals on the LPGA, Symetra, Korn Ferry, Latinoamerica, Mackenzie, Canada and China tours; course superintendents; caddies; members of the Association of Golf Merchandisers; certain USGA employees; members of the National Golf Course Owners Association; and PGA section employees. The safety net has been cast across virtually the entire industry, with an estimated 100,000 workers eligible for economic relief, according to Seth Waugh, the PGA’s chief executive.

Though the PGA of America committed $5 million to the fund, and third-party matching is expected to raise another $2.5 million, Waugh anticipates at least $10 million and perhaps as much as $20 million to be available for distribution once the fund matures.

“We just wanted to find a way to help,” Waugh said after the announcement in a phone call Monday with Morning Read. “With 41 sections in the PGA, we knew it was important to help them and others in the industry to find a way to get to the other side.”

The U.S. Golf Association recently launched an effort to provide $5 million in relief to assist its 59 Allied Golf Association members.

Ernie Els, a four-time major champion from South Africa who has a home in Florida, issued a challenge in a national campaign called ClubsHELP, a 501(c)7 foundation designed to support hospitals working with golf clubs in pooling resources for essential medical supplies and assistance to front-line medical personnel.

Each club designates a captain who works with a local hospital to identify needs, then rallies club members and other clubs to raise money and aid to support the needs of the adopted hospital.

“It’s a shining example of how people all around the world are pulling together in this crisis to help vulnerable members of society,” Els said, “and, of course, support the frontline health-care staff who are literally putting their lives on the line for all of us.”

To counter a severe shortage of personal protective equipment, or PPE, for doctors, nurses and other hospital staff, many golf-industry leaders have devised creative ways to support the front-line workers.

John Ashworth, a co-founder of apparel maker Linksoul, designed a T-shirt with the slogan “This calls for the low stinger,” a reference to “flattening the curve” of coronavirus’ projected rise in infections. Proceeds from sales of the $40 shirt will help fund relief efforts for health-care workers. As of late Tuesday, sales generated more than $130,000 to be used toward securing PPE for hospital staff.

Seamus Golf is better known as a company that makes tartan headcovers. Last month, the Beaverton, Ore.-based manufacturer directed its expertise toward protective masks. Other golf companies shifted production toward a critical need for masks, among them: Full Turn Direct, EP Pro, Lilly Pulitzer and B. Draddy.

Some golf companies have added their marketing and manufacturing expertise to the sale of T-shirts and other products, to support food banks and community foundations that provide direct relief. Nearly 17 million Americans have sought unemployment benefits in the past three weeks, according to a report Tuesday in The Wall Street Journal, far surpassing any period of mass layoffs in the post-World War II era. More workers are expected to be idled as the U.S. economy quickly contracts amid efforts to limit the spread of the virus, which has no known cure.

American Brooks Koepka, a four-time major champion and former top-ranked golfer in the world, donated $100,000 to the COVID-19 Response Fund in Palm Beach and Martin counties near his home in southeast Florida. PGA Tour winner Tony Finau’s foundation in Utah also has teamed up with For The Kids to provide food for at-risk children in his native Utah. Golfers Edoardo Molinari, Martin Kaymer and Sergio Garcia have made significant efforts toward charitable causes, as have caddies Ian Finnis (Tommy Fleetwood) and Billy Foster (Matthew Fitzpatrick). Many others in the game continue to give their time and money to help ease the economic suffering.

Golf’s generosity doesn’t end there. Augusta (Ga.) National Golf Club, which hosts the annual Masters Tournament, has committed a $2 million donation to its local community to fight the pandemic.

On Monday, I wrote about the plight of the caddies at Bandon Dunes Resort, which closed and idled 240 regular loopers. As of Tuesday night, the Bandon Caddie Relief Fund on GoFundMe.com raised more than $111,000 from 950-plus donors in less than 48 hours.

Other private clubs, including four in the Los Angeles area – Wilshire, Lakeside, Riviera and Los Angeles Country Club – also supported their loopers by raising more than $500,000. Other clubs to launch initiatives on GoFundMe for their caddies include The Madison Club in La Quinta, Calif.; The Outpost Club in Toledo, Ohio; The Ocean Course at Kiawah Island, S.C.; Shadow Creek in Las Vegas; and El Caballero in Tarzana, Calif.

As golf seemingly always has done, in times of great prosperity or economic downturn, the game’s leaders have stepped up in a meaningful way.

With the PGA Tour having contributed more than $3 billion in charitable giving, expect golf to continue to provide leadership long after this pandemic ends.

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