Play-at-home golf having its moment
Whether facing closed courses or just flattening the curve, players are getting creative
April 30, 2020
By Cameron Morfit, PGATOUR.COM
- Scott Jones built an elaborate backyard course with an assortment of mats and nets, plus a launch monitor. (Courtesy of Scott Jones)
One good way to measure the mood of the country is to watch what ads pop up on Facebook’s Words With Friends (Scrabble) app. There are spots for survival gear, facemasks, home-workout subscriptions. And, lately, the Dinsler Practice Net ($99.95) to catch your stay-at-home tee shots.
Be it in densely populated New York, where an executive order closed most courses, or New Jersey, where courses, parks and boardwalks are shut down, or even Florida, where courses remain mostly open, stay-at-home golf has never been hotter.
“You’re really seeing an eagerness to play, and people are figuring out where and when they can do that,” said Rodney Chamblee, Merchant of Accessories at PGA TOUR Superstore. “Hitting nets, chipping nets, hitting mats, putting mats. People who are staying at home, wanting to hit balls, stay flexible – we’ve seen an uptick in practice and/or training aids.”
That could mean something as simple as a putting matt with automatic ball return ($39.99 on pgatoursuperstore.com), or a training aid like the SuperSpeed Training Sticks ($199.99), which help players improve swing speed like weighted bats for ballplayers. The Orange Whip ($119.99), a flexible golf shaft with an orange ball at the end of it that helps players feel and generate tempo and flexibility, is also selling well.
The answer to where exactly people are using these things is a four-letter word: H-O-M-E.
Tiger Woods, broadcaster Jim Nantz, and short-game guru Dave Pelz have some of the most elaborate home practice areas on earth, but they were built pre-pandemic. For the rest of us, like Scott Jones of Fleming Island, Florida – near TPC Sawgrass, home of THE PLAYERS Championship – the COVID-19 crisis has inspired a flurry of architectural creativity.A behind-the-scenes look at Scott Jones' backyard course. (Courtesy of Scott Jones)
Jones, whose dog is named Rory McIlroy, can still avail himself of open courses near him but built an elaborate backyard course with an assortment of mats and nets, plus a launch monitor.
“As a golfer,” he told Jacksonville television station Fox 30 Action Sports Jax, “I can hit all 14 clubs in the bag.”
Lexi Thompson of the LPGA lives in Palm Beach County, one of three “hot spot” counties in Florida where officials have closed courses; on social media, she posted a photo of her garage/hitting area. Others have shared videos of themselves chipping in the back yard and/or showing off. Golf Digest published two lists of “the best quarantine-themed golf trick shots we’ve seen.”
All of which has added up to a rare bit of good news for retailers.
For retrieving balls hit in a park or other open space, some of PGA TOUR Superstore’s online buyers are even going back to the shag bag ($19.99). A shag tube is just $12.99.Scott Jones' elaborate backyard course features an assortment of sand traps and water features. (Courtesy of Scott Jones)
The National Golf Foundation has kept close tabs on the coronavirus pandemic and how it’s impacting the industry. It also measures pent-up demand and estimated 43% of golfers are practicing at home more than ever, adding, for emphasis, “About 1 in 5 say they’re doing this a lot more than usual. Might be a good time to get into the window-replacement business.”
Last week was a better one for course availability, the NGF reported Monday, as 58 percent of U.S. courses were open for play, up from 49 the week before. Although golf operations were cleared to resume in Minnesota and Wisconsin, with “pockets of play” opening back up in California, plus a ruling in New York allowing for play at private clubs, the Northeast remains largely shut down. Just 3 percent of courses are open in Nevada.
The itch to play, though, isn’t going away so easily.
Said Chamblee, “Titleist has always had a promotion, a stock-up program at beginning of the season, mid-March to mid-April. The customer buys three dozen ProV1s and gets the fourth free, and gets them personalized. That’s always been a very strong promotion for us, and I’ve noticed we’ve had an increase over historicals; there’s a pent-up demand, people are eager to get out there and play. As soon as they can, they’ll be ready to go.”