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How will golf be different after coronavirus?

Golf landscape

Whatever awkward adjustments we might face in the short term will fade when contrasted with a deeper appreciation for the game

Throughout this difficult period, Morning Read will ask various experts and leaders from around the industry one simple question: How will golf be different after the coronavirus? This is the first essay in our series, and it comes from New York Times bestselling author Tom Coyne.

I haven’t been holed up here on the homestead for all that long, but it seems like years since I’ve been on a golf course, and getting back out there again feels like a dream I dare not believe lest I spoil it. I’m sure it won’t be long before golf returns, and if tee times are the only thing I lose in this tragedy, I’m luckier than I deserve. But when it does come back, I foresee a somewhat awkward reunion, like an ex showing up for dinner; I’m sure everyone will be polite, but I wonder whether I’ll know how to act.

In the short-term, golf will be different in obvious ways. Handshakes will be eschewed, I imagine, for fist or elbow bumps. We’ll all keep our distance in the fairways, and I worry about caddies; it might be some time before their services are again in demand. We’ll all probably play with a little hand sanitizer in the bag, whenever it returns to store shelves, and we might be less inclined to hang around the clubhouse afterward. Being in buildings other than my home will feel strange for a while, like I’m trespassing or should be holding my breath.

Once the quarantine hangovers work their way out of our systems, coronavirus likely will leave some golf legacies in its wake. Most will be unpleasant, but not all of them. Courses that were teetering on the financial edge may very well become housing developments. Clubs already struggling for members may find themselves closing shop if job and money troubles persist, and that culling won’t be helped if more folks come to see golf as an expendable versus an essential. It always will be a necessity for this golfer, but for fair-weather players, getting used to life without golf might make them less inclined to stroke that dues check next season. And in case you hadn’t heard, golf is hard. If this is a season without golf, that’s one more reason for a struggler to quit it; we’re going to have to work hard to keep the new players from deserting our ranks.

It will be interesting to see how the resorts make out. I golf-travel as a vocation, but if I didn’t, I might be happy to stick around the local course for a while. This has all been a shock to our systems, and while I can’t wait to get back out into the world again, I’ve gotten pretty used to this bubble, and bursting it will take some time.

I worry for my favorite courses in Ireland and in Scotland, remote links dependent on visitor dollars. I wonder if they’ll be there for me to visit next year, as this summer’s itineraries fade from my calendar. And when I’m booking a trip abroad, there will be that new pause – what if I get stuck? Quarantined? It will pass and I’ll be going, but perhaps with a bit less bounce down the jetway.

The gifts of these circumstances are all the new appreciations we have in our lives. We won’t ever take an airport or a shopping mall or a boring day in the office for granted again. The mundanities of life have been transformed into privileges by this disease, and while I would like to think I always appreciated a round of golf, my next one will come with an uncommon amount of gratitude. And I hope the gratitude lasts. It’s easy to get over a cold or get out of a jam and forget all the foxhole promises we made. May we all remain thankful for this wonderful game; even if we don’t, at least none of us will ever again think that a three-putt is the worst thing in the world.

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