I’ve been reporting on golf for 52 years and never encountered a year like this one. The dreaded pandemic certainly made 2020 infamous in many ways, and that included the golf world.
What I’ll remember the most happened on March 12, when PGA commissioner Jay Monahan called a press conference during the first round of The Players Championship in Florida to announce that the remaining three rounds would be played without spectators.
That shocked all of us who were there, but later that night Monahan announced that the tournament would be canceled entirely and that the tournaments of the next four weeks were off as well. That’s when we realized how serious this was. The shutdown was on.
On the local level the Chicago District Golf Association canceled the Illinois State Amateur and CDGA Amateur. Mistwood Golf Club decided the Illinois Women’s Open wouldn’t be held. The Western Golf Association dropped its two national youth championships. The Illinois PGA didn’t even schedule an event until July.
While the drama of March 12 sticks out as the most impactful day of the golf season, the rest of it wasn’t so bad at all. In fact, golf – more than any other sport – showed its resiliency. No professional league got back in business quicker than the PGA Tour did.
The PGA Tour resumed tournament operations on June 11, and the three major American tournaments – the Masters, U.S. Open and PGA Championship – were played, albeit at unusual times of the year. So was the BMW Championship, the FedEx Cup Playoff event at Olympia Fields that was the highlight of the Chicago golf calendar. Sadly, the 50th anniversary of the John Deere Classic was a no-go.
Basically, the PGA and LPGA tour events were TV shows. There were virtually no spectators, and media admissions were limited to only a handful of people who covered the tournaments on a weekly basis. From my perspective I saw but one event in person – a PGA Tour Champions event in late October.
Though my golf columns and even a few travel destination stops continued, watching all the big competitions only via television represented a major — and most unwelcome — lifestyle change.
On the more positive side, Western Golf Association personnel worked diligently to get youth caddies working again and its most high-profiles tournaments – the BMW, Korn Ferry Tour’s Evans Scholars Invitational and the Western Amateur – did get played. The Illinois PGA salvaged the Illinois Open and its next three biggest championships and the CDGA managed to conduct a few of its late-season events.
No golf segment was more determined than the women’s side, however. Who would have thought that both the U.S. Women’s Open and the LPGA’s season-climaxing CME Group Championship could be played in December?
The tournament side, though, wasn’t the highlight of this golf season. Some have suggested the pandemic may have even “saved’’ golf because it was one activity that allowed play outdoors during these difficult times. Recreational play, despite restrictions nation-wide, boomed in 2020 and so did equipment sales.
No where was that more evident than in the Chicago market where public venues like Sportsman’s in Northbrook, Schaumburg Golf Club and Settler’s Hill in Geneva tackled major renovations despite the pandemic and new clubhouses were in the works at the Preserve at Oak Meadows, in Addison, and Fox Run, in Elk Grove,
By no means did the pandemic “save’’ golf, but it certainly stimulated interest in some quarters where it might have been lagging for a while.
Playing-wise the star of the show in 2020 was Dustin Johnson, winner of both the FedEx Cup and the Masters. Tiger Woods wasn’t a winner, but his 11-year old son Charley was when they paired up in the PNC Championship this month. TV viewers couldn’t help but note that father and son have identical swings despite the age difference.
While golf in 2020 turned out about as good as it possibly could in pandemic times, the 2021 season should be more exciting. The British Open should be back. The Olympics should have a golf competition in Tokyo. The Ryder Cup, postponed a year at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin, will still be a fall attraction — just a year later than originally anticipated.
The pandemic didn’t diminish golf in 2020, and it may have even enhanced the sport for both its viewers and participants in 2021.