Golf swings to new heights amid pandemic

Dante Navarro - The Philippine Star

MANILA, Philippines — Surprisingly, golf is in some kind of a boom during this stretch of the global health crisis with local clubs enjoying a tremendous increase in players’ turnout the last few months.

“I don’t have the headcount yet but there’s a definite increase in the number of new faces coming to the club,” said Jerome Delariarte, golf director at Manila Southwoods, which boasts two championship courses, the Masters and the Legends, in Carmona, Cavite.

“We’re lucky to have two courses to accommodate the ever-growing weekend crowd,” he said.

“Definitely we noted an increase (in turnout) by 20 to 30 percent,” said Boy Blue Ocampo, general manager of the Eagle Ridge Golf and Country Club, the country’s largest golfing facility with four championship courses – Norman, Faldo, Aoki and Dye, in Gen. Trias, also in Cavite.

“We are quite dependent on the tourist market but surprisingly because the condition of the courses had extremely improved, the support from paying members had increased and the number of new members had improved,” added Ocampo.

“I would say our members’ turnout increased this year than the last based on our demographics,” said Erwin Vinluan, director of golf operations at Wack Wack Golf and Country Club in Mandaluyong, which also houses two courses (East and West). “I think it’s because the golf course is the only place they can go (during pandemic).”

The sport is one of the few games allowed after the easing of lockdown restrictions a couple of months after the COVID-19 virus broke out in March, forcing the cancellation of all sporting events, including the Tokyo Olympics.

But since it is virtually made for social distancing, golf was allowed to resume play, including the pro tours in the US and other local circuits in various countries.

On the local front, clubs reopened last June although it took a little longer for the pro tour to restart in compliance with the government’s strict health and safety protocols.

Though tournaments outside of the pro circuit are disallowed, golf clubs continue to thrive, coming off a stretch of bustling activities with little precedent as players come in all shapes and sizes, from both genders and from all ages.

Vinluan said the sport boomed in popularity at Wack Wack by 15 percent during the pandemic even as he brushed aside notions of a downside to the growth of the sport, including difficulty in accommodating the big number of players, especially during weekends and holidays.

“It is more challenging but the club is doing its best to make their golfing experience better,” said Vinluan. “It is also better for the sport as new players, young and old, are taking up the sport.”

“I think the golf course is the safest place for players. The IATF directives plus additional club guidelines are enough to keep the players and the staff safe,” he added.

Delariarte also guarantees golf is one of the safest activities, saying: “It’s an outdoor sport and has natural social distancing. Being one of the first sports allowed to resume during quarantine, more young players took up the sport. The pandemic made people realize golf is probably the best recreational sport.”

He added the strict implementation of tee-time reservations and other NGAP/IATF guidelines also enabled all clubs to ensure the safety of the players and club personnel.

“The safety protocols, like caddies not allowed to clean or hold players’ equipment nor drive or ride golf carts, actually do not sit well with most players, who are so used to having them (caddies) handling their gear. But the new norm is to follow the health and safety guidelines. Otherwise, we would all lose this privilege,” said Delariarte.

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