Golf In 2020: Reflecting On A Year We’ll Never Forget

A strange and challenging year - How did golf come out of it?

Golf In 2020
(Image credit: Tom Miles)

Fergus Bisset considers golf from club level to the elite, in the context of the strangest and most challenging year most can remember.

Golf In 2020: Reflecting On A Year We’ll Never Forget

As 2019 rolled into 2020, none of us, save for some very knowledgeable and prescient virologists, could have predicted what a world-changing year 2020 was going to be.

There has been too much extra suffering and death, a tremendous amount of hard work and sacrifice, anxiety, loneliness and loss.

Within all that, golf seems pretty incidental and unimportant. In the grand scheme, it is.

But for many of us who have always loved this great game and for many others who have come to love it this year, golf has been a ray of sunlight breaking through an oppressively leaden sky.

The circumstances of 2020 have served as a wake-up call for multiple reasons and, for the golfing community, one of them has been a reminder of just what a great sport golf is.

Golf has so many qualities essential for human health and well-being: It’s exercise, it’s competition, it’s a challenge, it’s highly sociable, it’s fresh air in beautiful and varied surroundings.

Above all it’s fun… That’s what most of us really want from life isn’t it?

When lockdown began in March there was huge uncertainty for everyone on everything, golf included.

Would clubs survive? Would members pay their subs? Would courses be maintained?

Contingency plans were made, worst case scenarios imagined.

Manufacturers delayed product launches, club competitions and opens were cancelled and there was a real fear that golfers would turn away from the sport.

Far from it.

When lockdown restrictions were eased, it was like the bell ringing to mark the end of the school year at Rydell High.

Elated golfers flooded back to such an extent that tee times were like gold dust.

Players headed out in the dark, in rainstorms and gales, anything to get on the course.

And there was such joy in it all. People were truly delighted to do something that represented a semblance of normality, even if playing restrictions altered things slightly.

And it wasn’t just a momentary blip.

With golf deemed one of the few activities that could be carried out safely, golfers continued to make the most of their opportunity through the summer and we all came to realise just how lucky we are.

Others realised how lucky we are too and wanted to get in on the action.

After lockdown, 20,000 new members joined clubs around England according to research by England Golf.

There were surges in membership numbers in Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland too.

Sports Marketing Surveys reported playing round numbers way up on previous years through the summer months.

Manufacturers and retailers couldn’t keep up with the demand for equipment.

Greenkeepers could barely get on the course to work, so heavy was the playing traffic.

County Unions received a surplus of affiliation fees they have been, and will be, able to reinvest in the game.

All in all, it was a great summer for the playing of golf, even if the second lockdown put a dampener on things in the autumn for some!

It remains to be seen what the long-term economic effects of the virus will be.

Safe to say, they won’t be positive and that could have an impact on golf in the coming years.

But for now, grassroots golf seems in a happy place and, I hope at least, that 2020 will be seen as a turning point for the image of golf – A year when general opinion of the game changed a little.

Perhaps it might be viewed less as simply old-fashioned and elitist and more how it should be - as golf started out:

A sport for the people. A way for us to enjoy the outdoors and the company of others while engaging in an enjoyable and challenging activity… That sounds pretty sensible to me.

Golf In 2020 - The Pro Game

Golf In 2020

Dustin Johnson poses with the Masters Trophy [Getty Images]

If golf at a club level has enjoyed something of a shot in the arm during the pandemic – you’ll see what I’ve done there. What about the elite end of the game?

Of course, there have been disappointments.

The postponements of The Open Championship, the Ryder Cup and the Olympics were the foremost of those for me.

And all the tours had to reduce their schedules, some more so than others, depending on restrictions in the countries they planned to visit.

But a massive amount of work was done to get as much top-level golf played as possible, and what we had was hugely enjoyable.

Standout performances for me were DJ’s masterclass at Augusta in November and Sophia Popov’s unexpected and memorable victory in the Women’s Open at Royal Troon.

The “UK Swing” on the European Tour was good fun and Bryson’s antics were entertaining, whether you like them or not.

For me, there are a couple of further key reasons why pro golf would receive positive comments on its report card at the end of a difficult term.

Firstly, as golf was one of the few elite sports allowed for a portion of the year, viewing figures were excellent and hopefully (as with playing the game) a good number of people around the world were reminded what an exciting sport golf is.

Perhaps they might pick up a club in 2021…

Secondly, golf held up very well without fans.

Sports played on a pitch or court were far more adversely affected by the lack of spectators.

Watching a tennis match with no cheering or “Quiet pleases” was pretty repetitive and dull and had me turning over fairly quickly.

Whereas golf, on a different course each week, with a different backdrop remained interesting and varied.

The sounds of the game, the strike of the ball, the chats between player and caddie, the on-course interviews… they provided an appealing audio accompaniment as far as I was concerned.

Certainly, it was preferable to cries of “Sausage Supper” … or whatever the buffoons might come up with next…

Those who’ve enjoyed watching pro golf through this year of confinement have a huge amount to look forward to in 2021.

It’s set to be a bumper year with all the Majors, a Ryder Cup, an Olympic Games and full schedules on the main circuits – Let’s hope it’s all able to happen!

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Fergus Bisset
Contributing Editor

Fergus is Golf Monthly's resident expert on the history of the game and has written extensively on that subject. He is a golf obsessive and 1-handicapper. Growing up in the North East of Scotland, golf runs through his veins and his passion for the sport was bolstered during his time at St Andrews university studying history. He went on to earn a post graduate diploma from the London School of Journalism. Fergus has worked for Golf Monthly since 2004 and has written two books on the game; "Great Golf Debates" together with Jezz Ellwood of Golf Monthly and the history section of "The Ultimate Golf Book" together with Neil Tappin , also of Golf Monthly. 

Fergus once shanked a ball from just over Granny Clark's Wynd on the 18th of the Old Course that struck the St Andrews Golf Club and rebounded into the Valley of Sin, from where he saved par. Who says there's no golfing god?