Every sport has its traditions and rituals, and they can sometimes lead to the impression that clubs, events, even the sports themselves, are stuck in some time capsule from days gone by. It’s certainly a criticism that has been leveled at golf, where it has been suggested that the staid and elitist atmosphere surrounding the sport could lead to its ultimate demise.
We’ve all had to take a close look in the mirror over recent weeks, and golf has been no exception. It could be that the suspension of all professional tournaments was the shot in the arm that golf needed. There is certainly change in the air as the sport’s governing bodies look to get things back underway.
Golf in cyberspace
As the popularity of eSport has grown over the past five years, many sports have been wrestling with how it dovetails with the real thing. Some, most notably basketball and soccer, have embraced the technology. Through NBA 2K and FIFA, there are established virtual tournaments that replicate the NBA or English Premier League.
Recent events have inspired other sports to follow suit. Formula 1 has been running a virtual grand prix series to replace those that have been suspended or canceled. Horse racing has taken a similar path, most notably with the UK’s biggest race, the Grand National, being run in cyberspace, complete with TV coverage, and the chance to bet on the winner via sites like ComeOn.
Golf is actually a game that is perfectly suited to eSport, and there have been golf games for as long as there have been computers and consoles (remember Leader Board?). Yet that reputation for being less than progressive meant it was a real surprise when the sport’s inaugural virtual tournament was announced.
The BMW Indoor Invitational took place at a virtual St Andrews and was played on the Old Course over 18 holes. A whole host of pros, including the likes of Lee Westward and Martin Kaymer got involved in the event, which was ultimately won by world number 98 Joost Luiten. His hard work at the simulator earned him a €10,000 prize, which he divided between various charities.
Returning to the real world
The nature of golf means that it is one of the first sports that is returning after these long weeks of sport deprivation. The game is played outside in fresh air, and there is no reason for players to get close to one another, so it is the ideal social distancing sport.
The Korean LPGA was one of the first events in this new sporting era and the PGA tour restarts in June. Sport-starved fans will be glued to the screen, so golf will be under the spotlight like never before.
More importantly, however, this represents a great opportunity for clubs to hit the reset button and engage with people of all ages as offering the sport for the social distancing era. If they play it right, a golden age for golf could be just around the corner.