Out of the fog: Gratitude and new players abound at reopened Bay Area golf courses

Northern California golfers are savoring the walk around reopened local courses while welcoming interested new golfers to the game.
Northern California golf courses are busy as sun-starved residents are seeking outdoor fun following shelter-in-place orders.

As Golf Advisor’s “Lifestyle Correspondent”, I haven’t been able to bring our audience much lifestyle content in the age of COVID-19, barring my at-home putting adventures as documented on Instagram.

But when golf courses near my home began opening back up around the San Francisco Bay Area in early May, I was champing at the bit to see what seven weeks off the course had done to my game and what my newly minted putting stroke would produce. Turns out, I wasn’t the only one that was eager to get out and test their mettle.

From private clubs to munis, each facility has rolled out their own rules and interpretations of state and county guidelines. Most require masks in and around pro shops and no one will be entering a clubhouse anytime soon. Starters stand at least 6 feet away or behind plexiglass and there is tape everywhere to show you how to be socially distant. Some courses allow twosomes only, some allow foursomes but only from the same household, while some allow completely random foursomes as long as you are socially distant. Most courses have no rakes around the bunkers, and others no flagsticks. One of my new favorite pastimes has been seeing how creative clubs can get with pool noodles or pieces of plastic to ensure a no-contact putting experience. (The diehards can argue it out in the comments section if just touching the pool noodle with your ball constitutes actually making the putt. The USGA, for what it's worth, says the scores count!)

There is one constant I have noticed across every single golf course I’ve played at in this unprecedented time, public or private: They are all slammed. My Golf Advisor colleague Jason Scott Deegan and I waited 2 weeks to get a tee time at TPC Harding Park, whose PGA Championship date has been moved from May to August 6-9. The club my husband and I belong to has had tee times filled from open to close every single day without exception since golf opened back up. I was able to book a time for a threesome at Pacific Grove Golf Links on the Monterey Peninsula, affectionately known as the “Poor Man’s Pebble Beach," about a week before playing. They added a single to our group and every tee time for the day was booked with a full foursome, including the chilly morning and twilight times.

Even more exciting than seeing golfers out in droves has been observing WHO these golfers are. For me, I’ve been quite pleased to see so many women out on the course. It seems that since golf is one of the few outdoor activities people can participate in together, women are seeing golf as less of an institution with a high barrier to entry but more as a way to connect with others around them, get outside and enjoy nature. Foray Golf, a women's apparel brand, is reporting huge spikes in their direct-to-consumer and wholesale orders. "Even more exciting," said Megan Lamothe, the CEO of Foray, "is seeing a tremendous growth in the number of new customers."

I’ve received countless messages from women on Instagram saying, “Heading out to the course for the first time, wish me luck!” or “I’m finally going to take the plunge on golf, where do you recommend I start?”. The usual thoughts - “oh I’m embarrassed”, “I don’t know how”, “I don’t have time”, etc. - seem to have dissipated. Perhaps people don’t care as much about feeling embarrassed while playing golf? We are all just happy to be out there, to be doing something, and we don’t care what we look like doing it. It even feels like a more compassionate place in the energy I’ve felt from the usual golfers. Despite the fact that I play regularly, I personally feel more welcomed, less like an outsider, and notice fewer surprised glances at the fact that I’m there.

So when I see a daughter or a sister joining her family for 9 holes or a husband being patient with his wife who is on the range for the first time, I smile quietly to myself and think that perhaps a small silver lining to this pandemic might be the removal of some of the obstacles women or those who traditionally have not felt welcomed by the game would normally feel.

Beyond increased sales of pushcarts, phat scooters, women’s golf clothes, etc. perhaps the most interesting change in golf as we’ve returned to the sport has been seeing any change at all. Golf is an extremely slow place to alter from the norm, down to something as simple as offering takeout from clubhouse restaurants. Many clubs did not even have an online tee time booking system or a way to pay over the phone or online. They’re creating online stores for their merchandise and even creating custom instructional content to email to members. What would’ve taken years to change has instead changed overnight.

I hope that these changes, including the increased participation, won’t just be a fleeting trend but instead will work their way into being one of the holdouts that manifest themselves as part of golf culture. Golf has always needed to be more inclusive and more open to change. Maybe this will be the catalyst that golf so desperately needed to alter the golf lifestyle.

Kira K. Dixon tees off at TPC Harding Park, which is scheduled to host the PGA Championship August 6-9.

Kira K Dixon (formerly Kazantsev) is a reporter for Golf Channel's Golf Today and Golf Central shows and Special Contributor to GolfPass. Kira grew up playing golf and was Miss America in 2015. 
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Has anyone else seen a faster pace of play as well?

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Out of the fog: Gratitude and new players abound at reopened Bay Area golf courses