CSGA (January 4, 2021) Over the holidays we reflected upon a number of things to be thankful for during a difficult year. Near the top of the list was the fact that we were able to keep Connecticut playing golf in 2020, despite the pandemic. Especially so in the early season when golf courses in many other states were closed by Executive Order.
Like so many challenges, this one came out of nowhere. Back in January of 2020, we knew there were a number of projects and issues facing the CSGA:
- Changes to GHIN and the launching of the World Handicap System would require a time-consuming effort to educate golfers, golf professionals, and handicap chairpersons throughout Connecticut.
- A larger-than-normal slate of courses to rate, a need to attract more volunteer raters, and the urgency of getting them educated and skilled in handling the complexities of the course rating system.
- The addition of a significant championship, the Borck Junior, to an already full schedule of tournaments. And across all of our activities, a commitment to increasing our engagement with members.
So while gearing up for the Connecticut Golf Show, scheduled for the third weekend in March, we were busier than usual in January and February. And then suddenly, the entire world changed. People from Wuhan to Milan to Seattle to New York City were getting horribly ill, and dying.
As we learned about the novel coronavirus and how it was spreading, we made a conscious decision to lobby the State of Connecticut to keep golf courses, under certain restrictions, open, despite other businesses being closed down.
It was then, and is still our belief that golf can be played safely during a pandemic that is spread primarily through close human contact. Golf is one of few activities that by its very nature demonstrates and actually requires social distancing.
At the same time we were urging the cancellation of the Golf Show. Thousands of people indoors, packed elbow-to-elbow in the Connecticut Convention Center made no sense at all, a petri dish for infection, or what would later come to be known as a potential “super spreader.”
But outdoors in the open air, spread out across vast landscapes, golf could be played safely.
We have lobbied the State of Connecticut on previous occasions, twice in recent years defeating proposals that would have added roughly $15 million in taxes paid by golfers, and on more than one occasion helping to steer legislation that is both good for golf and good for the environment. Michael Dugan of Capitol Consulting, who we have kept on retainer for more than a decade, and who by his diligent and honest nature has earned the trust of elected officials and regulators throughout Connecticut, leads our efforts.
But this business of advocating for golf in the midst of a pandemic was something entirely different. Not just livelihoods, but actual lives were at stake.
Dugan’s contacts at the Department of Economic and Community Development (DECD) were receptive to explanations as to why golf could be played safely. State Legislators who understand or play golf were helpful, as were individuals in the Governor’s office who also had played rounds during which they never came within 10 feet of someone else.
Encourage walking…stay at least six feet apart…single rider carts…eliminate common touch points like rakes and flagsticks…put on a mask whenever you get close to someone…these were some of our early recommendations for keeping Connecticut safe while keeping courses open.
Naturally there were some decision-makers in our State Government who had little experience with, or knowledge of golf. And they were under enormous pressure from every industry in Connecticut. Thankfully they were willing to listen, learn and remain open-minded. It took time to explain the difference between things like “shotgun starts” and “tee times” and why the latter was better than the former in preventing the spread of the virus. Providing a fair amount of education, coupled with common sense, we helped these good people to recognize that a golf course is nothing at all like a meat packing plant, or other environments ripe for a COVID spread, and that allowing play was in fact a positive during such a crisis. Ultimately, we were enormously appreciative of their time, their concern for our industry and their willingness to trust the CSGA to write “Connecticut's Best Practices for Playing Golf During the COVID-19 Pandemic.”
On March 25, at a time when everything from college sports to high school sports to Hartford Wolfpack hockey were shut down, golf courses and driving ranges were declared by DECD to be “essential businesses” in Connecticut. Thus throughout much of the springtime when golf courses in surrounding states were closed, courses in Connecticut remained open for play.
Competitive golf presented different challenges. The USGA cancelled pretty much everything on their schedule and postponed the Men's and Women's US Open Championships, while the rest of us tried to figure out how we could adapt to a new reality that required significant changes in everything from players’ interactions with a starter on the first tee, to official scoring after the round.
It was never business as usual, as everything in 2020 became a juggling act. But by all accounts, it was a “great” year for golf, not just in Connecticut, but throughout the country. Rounds were up by double digits everywhere, and golf was repeatedly listed among the safest of activities.
So for all the goals established at the beginning of the year, the CSGA and its members accomplished one thing we couldn’t have dreamed of. We saw people re-discover a wonderful game, enjoy it with their families, bring their non-golfing friends to it, and appreciate the joys of the sport, even in the midst of a health crisis.
What will 2021 bring? The vaccine will surely help, and we all hope sooner rather than later. Vigilance in mask wearing and social distancing remain and will continue to be essential. Like other businesses we will operate remotely with only a couple of staff members in the office at any time. And as the weather changes from winter to spring we will remain committed to celebrating this renewed appreciation for golf, while encouraging everyone to do their part in helping to prevent the spread of the virus.
– The CSGA Staff