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BOB WEST ON GOLF — Golf has proven safe, popular amidst pandemic

In a 2020 that will long be remembered for the tragic toll taken by the COVID-19 pandemic, from more than a quarter million lives lost, to hospitals overflowing with infected patients, to rising unemployment, to small businesses going under, the game of golf has remarkably prospered.

It certainly didn’t appear that would be the case back in the spring, what with 12 states having mandates disallowing play, scores of courses across America closed, the PGA Tour shut down and numerous restrictions put in place where the doors had not been locked.

Several months later, however, National Golf Foundation figures reveal rounds played and golfing equipment sold on a rocket-like trajectory.

Consider, for instance, that after 20 million rounds were lost pre-summer in the continental United States, total rounds played through October were up 10.8 percent over 2019. Rounds played in June jumped 14 percent, then the total climbed to 20 percent in July, 21 percent in August, 26 percent in September and a staggering 32 percent in October.

The upward trend has been much the same at Babe Zaharias, with head pro Mitch Duncan saying greens fees are up roughly 20 percent from last year.

All total through the end of October, 39 million more rounds had been played from coast to coast in 2020 than the year before. With a month to go until the calendar flips over to 2021, an overall gain in rounds played figures to be at least 10 percent.

The last time golf rounds jumped as much as 5 percent in a year was 2012.

Golf, it would seem, has been a blessing, a stress reliever and one of the seemingly safest activities at a time when words like quarantine and social distancing were on the verge of making terms like birdie, shank and hole-in-one obsolete.

People in the golf industry who fought to stay open have arguably been vindicated. There has been little evidence suggesting folks who assemble to play 18 holes are involved in a super spreader event. Or even a minor spreader.

It has surely helped that fists bumps have replaced high fives, that masks are much in evidence in clubhouses, that the game is played outside and that the elevated number of rounds played have come in summer heat for the most part.

Perhaps even more amazing than the jump in rounds played is the massive amount of equipment being sold. NGF figures show retail sales topped $1 billion – yes billion – for the July through October period. That is an all-time third-quarter record dating back to when Golf Datatech started tracking sales in 1997.

Compared to the same four months of 2019, the leap in equipment sales was 42 percent. It was 18 percent above the previous third quarter high water mark of $852 million in 2007. Only quarter two in 2008 ever yielded higher equipment sales.

All the more incredulous is that the rising rounds and a massive boost in drivers, putters, golf bags and wedges sold in the midst of a pandemic followed a period of angst in the golf industry. Some feared interest in the game was dropping off, that playing 18 holes had become too time consuming and that there was not enough new blood getting involved.

In the ashes of a pandemic is certainly not the way the golf industry wanted to rebound. But there are many, many golfers thankful the game has helped them preserve sanity in such a scary time.

CHIP SHOTS: Andrew Landry’s tie for fourth in last week’s RSM Classic boosted him from No. 153 to 73 in Fed Ex Cup points for the 2020 portion of the new golf season. He also advanced to No. 67 on the money list with $381,230 for the six events in which he participated.

Rain and chilly weather pretty much wiped out the daily competitions at Babe Zaharias. The only event reported was the Wednesday DogFight, which was played in an all-points-count format.

Winning with 25 points was the team of Joe Gongora, Don MacNeil, Steve Wisenbaker and a ghost player. Placing second with 23 points was the foursome of Ed Holley, Rufus Reyes, Jeff Rinehart and Randy Trahan.

Closest to the pin winners were Lee Bertrand (No. 2, 12 feet, 1 inch, No 7, 6-4), Wisenbaker (No. 12, 24-5) and James Vercher (No. 15, 12-0).

Golf news should be e-mailed to rdwest@usa.net