Is golf prepared for the "new" normal?

Some day - hopefully sooner  than later – the golf industry will return to normal.

Question is, what will be the “new’’ normal look like?

As much as everyone would like, golf’s return to any kind of normalcy won’t be fast and furious. Don’t be fooled by the PGA Tour and The Masters parading around Fall dates for their events. Even if those happen, neither the Tour and The Masters live in the real world. No, the real world in the golf industry is filling tee sheets and selling clubs and balls. Each of those were difficult even before the Covid-19 pandemic.

The post-pandemic golf industry – from golf courses to equipment companies - could be a shell of itself by August or September, particularly if it expects to return quickly to the pre-pandemic days. Those days are gone, possibly forever.  

To be sure, major equipment companies such as The Acushnet Company (Titleist and FootJoy), Callaway, Ping and Bridgestone will again be producing clubs and balls. The key to success for each will be operating under the “new’’ normal and not trying to recoup all that has been lost all in one quarter.

For all practical purposes, 2020 is lost in terms of equipment sales. A lot of new 2020 had barely made it to market before states and local governments began shutting down golf courses and retail stores in such key states and Florida, Texas and California. Many courses in the Phoenix/Scottsdale are operating under new rules whereby all tee times are handled outdoors.

For equipment companies, the challenge will be trying to figure out to move forward with 2021 introductions late this year – probably about the time most of the country opens for business – or continuing to market and produce 2020 products. Much of that decision likely will rest with inventory levels and retailers’ willingness and ability to take on product. We might get a glimpse into that thinking on May 4 when Acushnet CEO David Maher holds his quarterly conference call with Wall Street analysts.

With approximately 17 million people laid off in the past three weeks – a number that undoubtedly will climb – the question becomes: Who will fill the tee sheets? Bucket list resorts such as Pinehurst, Pebble Beach and Kiawah Island will come back because of their high-end clientele. But rank-and-file players – those who comprise the bulk of the American golfing public – are feeling the most significant impact of the Covid-19 shutdowns. How many of them can now afford $400 and $500 drivers and even a $40 round of golf? And how many golf courses – even with the aid of government money – will continue operations for the long haul?

The pandemic will end and the economy will recover. The country, likewise, will recover to a “new’’ normal. If it wants to remain relevant, the golf industry, never known for its forward thinking, will need to adjust to that “new’’ normal.

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