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Turf MD: Good riddance to 2020

By |  January 28, 2021 0 Comments
Photo: Karl Danneberger

Karl Danneberger

The year everyone wanted to end is finally over. COVID-19 will forever be linked to 2020. In the coming years, historians will study, analyze and write about the impact of the coronavirus on our society as they would a major global war. No doubt future generations and maybe your own grandchildren will ask you, ‘What did you do during 2020?’

As a part of that history, what lasting impact, if any, will there be on the game of golf and the maintenance of golf courses?

What we have learned so far is that golf is a game for a pandemic. The number of golf rounds is up almost 11 percent through October with a projected increase in 20 percent by the end of 2020, according to Golf Datatech.

Amazingly, included in this increase is the 42 percent drop in golf rounds during April due to the lockdown. Across the continental United States, every state saw a significant increase in rounds of golf over 2019.

Why golf continues to be popular during the pandemic is self-evident. There is a lower risk of infection being outside compared to indoors. Even registering to play golf or picking up something to eat can be coordinated to avoid being indoors. The large open spaces associated with a golf course reduces the likelihood of close contact with fellow golfers.

Social distancing is part of golf.

Moving forward into 2021 and beyond, will we see rounds continue to grow? Will we retain the new golfers attracted to the game in 2020?

Rule adjustments and relaxation of certain golf norms were necessary to permit golf courses to be open following the April lockdown. Two practices that stood out to me were raising the cup liner and removing bunker rakes.

Besides eliminating a high-touch area, raising the cup liner eliminated the need to bend over and pick the ball out of the cup, which, for a golfer like me, also helps reduce some back stress. In addition, raising the cup liner decreased the time needed to putt, since hitting the cup liner consisted of just striking the putt straight at the liner, requiring little touch and less time to read the break. My own belief, and according to the golfers I’ve spoken with, this lowered scores for the most part — but the downside is what these scores meant to one’s handicap.

Removing bunker rakes has taken the task of raking the bunker from the golfer. Golfers appreciated the feeling of not having to do the “raking chore” after hitting a bunker shot. The lift and smooth rule in bunkers actually reduced the number of sand shots from the bunker by the average golfer.

From a maintenance standpoint, some golf courses saw a decrease in costs associated with maintaining bunkers. The lack of bunker rakes had collateral benefits including less time and effort spent mowing around bunkers.

In a year when golfers were grateful just to be able to play, raising the cup liner and flag and removing bunker rakes made golf a little easier and more enjoyable. Going forward, will simple changes like the two mentioned here catch on?

I’m reminded of when I constructed a practice putting green in my backyard a number of years ago. My golfing neighbors thought it was the coolest, mostly because they were extremely grateful that I allowed them to use the putting green at any time. As time passed, however, I increasingly faced neighbor suggestions, like changing the cups more frequently, making the green faster, adding a collar. And I received questions such as, why is the green dry? Or, why can’t you do something about the spots on the green?

As we move forward into 2021 and beyond, I wonder what long-term impact 2020 will have on golf and our business. Will golf return to “normal,” and what does that mean?



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