Paul McGinley believes golf is ready to return and will have long-term benefits
"With the exclusion of crowds from the events themselves, the watching of golf from our armchairs will be different of course, but sporting organisations are left with little alternative"
Last Updated: 11/05/20 8:05am
Many professionals are back in practice, and authorities are planning for the return of competitive golf next month. Paul McGinley looks forward to this happening, but warns of the many differences ahead...
It looks like we are slowly moving towards getting professional golf back on television, albeit initially behind closed doors. With knives sharpened and some of the view that it is too early and not yet safe enough, many will be waiting in anticipation to assess, critique, and judge the resumption of upcoming PGA Tour events.
They may, in time, be proved right. The complexity of the pandemic means nobody can really predict returning times and safety with any degree of certainty. This temporary global situation has thrown the world and with it, sport, into a state of chaotic turbulence.
Golf is no different to other industries in trying to navigate its way through these times, with safety being paramount but also cognisant of the economic impact to its business model.
With the exclusion of crowds from the events themselves, the watching of golf from our armchairs will be different of course, but sporting organisations are left with little alternative. Losing atmosphere is one thing for these organisations but as custodians of the game, they are acutely aware that they cannot spiral into a financial wilderness with debt that so many big businesses are already facing worldwide.
Some governments are starting to open up their economies. They sense the importance of balancing the fight against the virus with restarting the economy and lifting the spirits of their people. Sport is a huge contributor to both.
The American government has offered all of the country's major sporting organisations a supply of testing kits. They say that there are enough available for workers on the front line and that they are now going to use the surplus to kick-start important sectors of the economy and this includes sport. Apparently, numbers of these testing kits are becoming more available week after week. We take their word on that.
The UK government is aiding all sports in their preparations to return, as long as this resumption is in line with their strict guidelines on safety and control of the virus.
Over these past few months, there has been a massive investment of resources and time put into the gathering of expert information for all sports and their resumption. This has involved high-level consultation with governments and their medical teams.
Get the best prices and book a round at one of 1,700 courses across the UK & Ireland
Preliminary policies have been devised that will need to be adhered to in order for each sport to resume. Many of these policies are still being debated in other sports. Golf and its governing bodies have come a long way in the procuring of procedures to be able to comply with governmental guidelines dealing with the virus.
'Golf must work collectively'
Due to the age profile of sportspeople as well as their fitness levels, we are told that the risks of their contracting COVID-19 are very low. Nonetheless, procedures will be strictly followed for them and everybody else allowed on site at tournaments. Experts are clear, however, that minimising the transmission of this virus is all that can be achieved.
Providing an environment that is 100% secure at an event is a well-nigh impossible task, just as it is in all of the rest of society. As part of golfing guidelines, there will be procedures in place for quarantining and isolation should anyone become infected. All people on site will be surrounded by qualified personnel to deal with a coronavirus outbreak should it occur and the potential consequences to the event assessed.
Most elite sport contributes financially to the structures below it and golf is no different. Although there is a significant charity element, particularly on the PGA Tour, I hope that a better reinvestment model by golf's professional organisations into the grassroots structures will be a positive outcome on the back of this virus, as many clubs and facilities in the industry will need help. The sport needs to work more collectively in order to help itself.
There are also other benefits to golf's return such as employment in the many cottage industries surrounding tournament golf, the travel and hospitality industries, not to mention the taxes paid within such industries and taxes paid by players - all of which are contributed back into the economy. Resumption of professional tournament golf will also bring with it a big charity contribution in aid of the various health services throughout the world.
Post COVID-19, the format of many sports will most likely change. Consolidation and merging of organisations in tennis, football and rugby are being talked of as likely scenarios, and golf may well follow. First things first, however, the show needs to stay on the road during these uncertain times in whatever form it can.
It is important not to compromise on what makes sport so enthralling - its integrity and competitive nature - but we cannot ignore the importance of financial factors.
We are fortunate in that social distancing can be practised relatively easily, as golf is not a contact sport. It is is one of the sports in which safety guidelines can be easily practised, and hence is one of the first to return.
Health services worldwide are heroically battling the virus. The best medical experts are honing in on vaccines and better treatment measures that will minimise the chances of loss of life so that we can hope for a better future. Until that happens, we will need to get used to this 'new normal' where health and safety guide the playing of all sport.
'Let's be open to change'
These are uncharted times and the world is dealing with it on the hoof. We are rightly cautious about all sports returning but this has to be balanced with other factors. It is important not to compromise on what makes sport so enthralling - its integrity and competitive nature - but we cannot ignore the importance of financial factors.
We get exhilarated by mass audiences bringing atmosphere but let us not get totally sidetracked on this issue. There are other and perhaps bigger concerns at play here. Competition in elite sport delivers value on so many levels.
In these times of crisis, it is the person who is sitting at home looking for entertainment through live competitive sport for whom we need to provide most value. We have a duty to them but let us remain mindful of the financial well-being of our sport, its clubs and organisations in what will be a very unpredictable and turbulent time in the coming years.
By yearning for our sport to remain the same, and not being open to short-term change, we risk being accused of holding pompous views that our sport should dismiss playing due to a lack of atmosphere when others are doing everything in their power to resume play.
Let us be open to this temporary change if that is what is needed. This would be for the greater good of our sport, the cottage industries that depend on it, and the financial sustainability of golfs governing bodies.
It has been relatively easy for the government to put the country to hibernate in lockdown measures but the real leadership is in how to come out, requiring very tough decisions. Certainly, every government regulation must be adhered to and sporting organisations must be fully compliant with new regulations as the situation evolves.
It is not possible to get it exactly right; but golf seems ready to try with a degree of confidence due to its nature as a sport, the thorough planning already done and resultant procedures that will now be in place.