The Extra Point: Pandemic halts College golf season, increases sport’s recreational popularity

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COURTESY PHOTO / WM.EDU

When COVID-19 first came to Virginia last spring, its arrival corresponded with the beginning of the National Collegiate Athletic Association championship golf season.

At the time, collegiate golfers across the nation were scheduled to compete in what many believed would be a normal season.

However, within weeks of the nation’s first confirmed COVID-19 case, any spark of hope was quickly snuffed out as both cancellations and cases accumulated by the masses, leaving not only the golf community, but also the rest of the world in complete dismay.

At first, the pandemic was observed from afar. However, once it became prevalent in the United States, spring sports, including varsity golf, were the first to be canceled.

Prior to any restrictions, William and Mary concluded play Feb. 16 at The Invitational at Savannah Harbor in Savannah, G.A. hosted by the Tribe, where the team placed 14 of 19 for the 54-hole event.

Following the men’s event, the Tribe wrapped up play March 10 at The River Landing Classic hosted by North Carolina Wilmington in Wallace, N.C.

The team finished with a final round score of 301 (+13), placing nine of 12 amid a strong field.

These two tournaments would mark the end of the 2020 golf season for the Tribe.

With the abrupt halt, many university golf programs, including the College’s, were left looking to the fall 2020 semester for a fresh start.

Although the start never came for the Tribe, golf courses still remained open for recreational play throughout the summer months, allowing many newcomers to take up the sport and former players to rekindle an old passion.

While uncertainty has reigned over the world of sports within the past year, the game of golf has adapted rather quickly to these unusual circumstances.

From the removal of rakes in sand traps to inserting pool noodles inside the cup, golf courses have gone to great lengths to ensure the health and safety of their players by limiting human contact on the course.

It is not a foolproof system, but it could be the best solution we have for now.

The pandemic might have changed the way the sport has traditionally been played, but it certainly hasn’t deterred golfers from flocking to the courses.

According to a report from the National Golf Foundation and Golf Datatech, total golf rounds played across the country at the start of 2020 were up 25.5 percent compared to rounds played in 2019.

Often referred to as a “dying sport,” the game of golf may have a global pandemic to thank for its rapid rise in popularity.

Speaking of popularity, one of golf’s most sacred events that draws in millions of viewers around the world each year, will also be directly affected by the pandemic.

The annual Masters Tournament, held on the second Sunday of April at the exclusive Augusta National Golf Club, was forced to reschedule, thus altering the history of a tournament that hasn’t been postponed since 1946.

Famous for its well-manicured grounds and vibrant azalea blossoms, the timing of the event is paramount to the course’s traditional image.

However, with the recent postponement, fall weather conditions will result in a different view of Augusta National for the first time in 86 years, adding to the list of firsts that 2020 has brought.

Although the Masters may not look or feel the same without spring weather and the natural allure associated with April in the south, postponing the tournament to the fall was deemed necessary to keep competitors safe.

Similarly, other courses across the nations must also continue to make adjustments in order to conform to these modern trials and tribulations.

While there is no easy road map, golfers are hopeful that the safety measures and strict social-distancing guidelines in place will continue to be effective by keeping players safe in the coming months.

And because COVID-19 cases are predicted to rise again, golf courses may provide one of the only mental and physical escapes from the madness.