The latest updates on the Coronavirus in golf:
With the majority of UK golf courses reopening for members only, the demand for membership has gone through the roof.
Ed Richardson, general manager at Broadstone Golf Club in Dorset, told The Golf Business that the club had more than 30 new membership applications in just the last week. "It has been the busiest, but also most enjoyable, week I have had in my working life," he said.
Stewart Judd, general manager of Bush Hill Park Golf Club in London, added: “We have signed up 35 new golfing members in the past three days. For the first time in about 25 years, demand for membership could outstrip supply. This is a massive challenge but a real opportunity to reset the golf industry.”
As things stand, the 2020 Ryder Cup is still scheduled to go ahead in its original slot, from 25-27 September, at Whistling Straits in Wisconsin. But with no expectation that a Coronavirus vaccine will be available by then, the Ryder Cup would almost certainly have to be played behind closed doors with no fans.
“It’s increasingly looking like it’s going to be behind closed doors or postponed,” says 2014 European captain Paul McGinley. “Unless there’s a vaccine and a miracle cure found in the next two or three months, I think it’s very doubtful we’ll have masses of crowds gathering again in September.”
Even the most optimistic golf fan doesn't expect it to be possible for tens of thousands of fans to be able to gather at a Ryder Cup this September, which leaves two options: play the Ryder Cup without fans, or postpone.
Rory McIlroy knows which side of the fence he's on. “Having a Ryder Cup without fans is not a Ryder Cup,” says the world number one, who played in golf's comeback event, the TaylorMade Driving Relief, behind closed doors at Seminole Golf Club in Florida.
It’s a sentiment the majority of golf fans share:
“It wouldn’t be a great spectacle, there’d be no atmosphere,” adds McIlroy.
“I would much rather they delay it until 2021 than play it at Whistling Straits without fans. And that’s from a European going to America, knowing that I’m going to get abuse!
“Obviously it would be better for Europeans to play without fans because we wouldn’t have to deal with some of the stuff that you have to put up with – but at the same time it’s not a Ryder Cup.
“It wouldn’t be a great spectacle, there’d be no atmosphere, so if it came to whether they had to choose between not playing the Ryder Cup or playing it without fans, I would say just delay it for a year and play it in 2021."
America's top-ranked player, Brooks Koepka, feels the same. “I personally don’t want to play if there’s no fans,” he says. “I don’t see a point in playing it.”
Why the Ryder Cup may not be postponed
Despite the majority of players and fans feeling the Ryder Cup should be postponed, it may well go ahead. The reason? Money.
European Tour CEO Keith Pelley recently admitted that the Tour's already somewhat uncertain future will take a further financial hit due to Coronavirus. Postponing this year's Ryder Cup would almost certainly mean shifting the following Ryder Cup, currently scheduled for Italy in 2022, back a year. The European Tour receives a huge financial boost from hosting the Ryder Cup and would not want to wait an extra 12 months for the next one.
"It's obviously not going to be the same as a Ryder Cup with big crowds," says European captain Bernard Gallacher. "But because we are living in such unprecedented times, I would hope that the players, if asked, would play in front of no crowds.
"I would expect them to do what's best for the European Tour. I think they would be professional enough to go out there and not want to lose, whether they are in front of one person or 40,000 people.
"And neither would the American side want to lose, even if you're walking out there with one caddie and no one else. It would still be a Ryder Cup.
"I would not want to do anything that would hurt the financial position of the European Tour. We are unlike the PGA Tour; we don't have deep pockets like them."
Rory McIlroy doesn't think profit and loss should come ahead of what a Ryder Cup really stands for.
“I have a pretty strong view on this," he says. "I get the financial implications for everyone involved – there’s a lot that goes into putting on the Ryder Cup that people don’t probably know or appreciate – but having a Ryder Cup without fans is not a Ryder Cup.
“If they do delay it until 2021, the next Ryder Cup is supposed to be in Italy, and we know how badly affected Italy was by Coronavirus, so it gives that country an extra year to prepare for the Ryder Cup in 2023 instead of 2022. This is only one opinion but if we have to play the Ryder Cup behind closed doors this year, I’d rather just delay it.”
2020 Ryder Cup captain Padraig Harrington can see both sides of the argument.
"Nobody wants to see the Ryder Cup played without the fans being there," he says. “There’s no doubt that it makes the tournament so much better. Non-golfers and golfers around the world watch the Ryder Cup because of the tension that’s created by the spectators.
“There are bigger things too than the Ryder Cup. You know it’s a big deal in golf but we have to see the bigger picture.
“It wouldn’t be in the Ryder Cup’s best interests but it could be in the best interests of enough people who want to see a big sporting occasion on TV.”
Harrington says that if the PGA Tour is able to resume safely – it's currently scheduled to begin in early June – there's no reason the Ryder Cup can't go ahead this year.
“If those PGA Tour events go well behind closed doors then we’re far more likely to see a Ryder Cup as normal,” he says.
But McIlroy is confident that the Ryder Cup will be postponed this year.
"My personal hunch is that I don't see how it is going to happen, so I do not think that it will happen. I see it being pushed back until 2021 and, honestly, I think that will be the right call."
Golf courses in England, Wales, the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland have now reopened. Golf courses in Scotland remain closed for now.
Who can you play golf with?
England Golf initially released a statement which explained that the government guidance states: "All outdoor sport must be done alone or within a household group and that includes golf."
However, further clarification from the government revealed that when golf courses open, "you should only use these alone, with members of your household, or with one other person from outside your household, while keeping two metres apart".
Will you get a tee time?
The limitations on who you can play golf with are causing problems at some clubs. With group sizes restricted to one and two balls, with 10 or 15-minute gaps between tee times, golf courses are not able to accommodate as many golfers as normal, meaning some are getting fully booked weeks in advance.
GolfNow, the world's largest online tee time booking system, has experienced record traffic since golf courses reopened. 90,826 people visited the site last week, nearly triple the previous record (during The Open last year).
The increased demand for tee times and limited supply is having an impact on green fees, with many clubs charging more than normal.
TG recently spoke to a man who played golf in California on the first day courses reopened – his green fee was 30% higher than normal.
Clearly, golf clubs need to look after members first, particularly as many have been supporting their club financially for two months without being able to play golf.
Higher green fees may also help clubs recoup some of the losses they've incurred while being forced to close for two months or more.
Increasingly being seen as a feeder tour to the PGA Tour, and with the new threat of a possible Premier Golf League, the European Tour faced a somewhat uncertain future even before the Coronavirus pandemic emerged.
With all professional golf events currently suspended due to Coronavirus, European Tour CEO Keith Pelley reveals that the Tour will be financially affected for some time to come, even when play resumes.
“You should be prepared that when we do resume playing, the schedule and the infrastructure of tournaments could look radically different from what you have been used to,” he said in a message to European Tour members.
“Many of the things you have become accustomed to, such as top-class players’ lounges or courtesy car services will most likely assume a different appearance, if indeed they are present at all.
“Prize funds will also most likely be different. The reality is, the pandemic is going to have a profound impact on the tour financially, as well as many of our partners, both in sponsorship and broadcast areas.”
There is little the European Tour can do until it is safe for golf to resume. They are making plans to maximise the number of tournaments played when golf becomes playable again.
“We are looking at options such as multiple tournaments in the same location; two tournaments in the same week, or three in a fortnight; or three or four tournaments back-to-back in the UK with a 14-day ‘quarantine’ period ahead of that," says Pelley.
“(This would) allow players not from the UK to come over and self-isolate in advance, if that health requirement is still in place then.”
Pelley admits that the financial implications will last into next year, at least.
“We are doing everything we possibly can to come through this, but be prepared that the 2021 schedule may look profoundly different to the 2019 or the 2018 schedule,” he says.
“This is difficult for all of us to face after the tireless work we have all undertaken to grow our Tour over the last five years, but this is the new reality.”