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Golf in Korea during COVID-19

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It seems like just yesterday when we golfers were free to go about our activities, chasing the little white ball down the fairways. But as Korea enters its seventh month since the outbreak of COVID-19, many golfers here are quick to adapt to the new realities brought on by the novel virus.

Back in February, when the virus was just starting to catch the general public’s attention, Korean golfers remained largely indifferent since golf season hadn’t begun as yet. But with spring came an alarming increase in the number of infections, and most locals took heed and practiced social distancing by staying home and off the golf course.

Although the end of 2019 season showed a significant increase in the number of new golfers taking up the game, experts predicted that the golf industry was headed for a huge financial downturn. Or so they thought.

What had actually happened was the opposite. Except for courses around the city of Daegu where an initial cluster of the outbreak was reported, almost all golf courses in Korea have been enjoying robust business. In fact, the number of golfers during the first half of 2020 has been said to have increased by 30 percent over the previous year. Lockdowns? Courses closed? Not on this peninsula.

Reasons attributed to the increased number of golf rounds vary, but most here agree it is mainly due to overseas travel restrictions. Each year, tens of thousands of golfers travel to Japan, China, and nearby Southeast Asian countries (Thailand, Vietnam, Malaysia, etc.) to play golf. Since Covid-19 has closed off these options, Korean courses have enjoyed an unexpected rise in the number of golfers staying put. Just not at home.

But aren’t golfers worried about catching the virus? Even though golf is played outside and allows for plenty of social distancing, we still ride the same power carts and use the same lockers. So what drives golfers here to take their chances?

COMBATING COVID-19 IN KOREA

(Effective network of emergency alerts and text updates to help steer clear of affected areas)

Part of the reason that Koreans feel safe to venture outside is the swift and detailed (sometimes even pervasive) information available to the public. In Korea, over 95 percent of the population owns a mobile phone through which the government, both local and federal, provide an endless stream of real-time emergency text warnings.

Without revealing personal information, these messages detail the date, time and all the places an infected person(s) has visited over the past few days. Tracing back all the travel routes of the patient, the information is quickly made public on local government sites and SNS platforms. The visited locations are disinfected and closed for a period of time, and all those who visited the establishments are contacted to take the test.

The quick response measures seem to be working as Korea has managed to keep the number of daily new cases down to single digits. For golf, only one course had reported back in April that an infected individual had visited the course. The news had reached practically every golfer within hours, and the course also acted quickly in shutting down and contacting all golfers within a week of the incident to be tested.

(A new routine in the age of COVID-19 includes masks, heat scans and temperature check at golf courses)

In addition, most golf clubs and courses are now equipped with heat-sensing cameras and thermometer-wielding personnel at the entrance.

Upon pulling up to the front gate a country club, golfers are now greeted by a masked staff member who takes your temperature, name, and contact information. At a minimum, face masks are required to enter the clubhouse and locker room, and hand sanitizers are never more than a few steps away. (I’m still kicking myself for not investing in companies that make heat-sensing cameras and sanitizers.)

(CleanCU film protecting flagsticks and rakes from transferring the Coronavirus at the 42nd KLPGA Championship)

Another safety feature to emerge in the new COVID-age is “Clean CU” flagsticks and bunker rakes. Developed by GKnetworks Inc., the company donated its patented antimicrobial copper plastics and film products for the 42nd KLPGA Women’s Championship in May.

The tournament was broadcast around the world as the first sanctioned golf tournament post-COVID-19 outbreak. According to the company, the inherent properties of copper prevent the virus from surviving on the surface where the film is applied. Clean CU product was also used on doors, handles, desk surfaces and elevators at the tournament, with more courses and businesses following suit.

(Antimicrobial copper plastic film on doors, desks and elevators for day-to-day safety measures)

The last precaution aimed at preventing the transmission of the novel Coronavirus is a new type of face protection shield developed and patented by Atem Korea, a local firm specializing in PVC film for computer and mobile screens. The face shield aims to protect the face, including the eyes, and prevents one from touching their own face.

Admittedly, the ultralight face shield is aimed at the general public for daily use and not specifically for golf. But I found that its outdoor version with UV protection came in quite handy on the course as well. The antimicrobial, anti-fog coating made for comfortable protection from both the sun and the virus, although it did initially draw curious looks from others.

I don’t actually see it catching on with the general golfing public, though I did get some inquiries from the caddies and non-golf activities like fishing and customer-service related fields.

(Personal trainers, sports fishermen, and drive-thru service attendants all seem to see the benefits of the face shields)

Whatever the case may be, it doesn’t look like the virus will be going away anytime soon. At the same time, it apparently takes more than a life-threatening novel virus to keep Korean golfers off the golf course—even if it means looking like a faceless alien while playing

What is the golf course situation in your corner of the world?

 

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James is a golf gear-nut living and writing about all things golf in Korea. A fan of Tiger, Fred, and Seve, he is forever seeking the holy grail of golf clubs that will lower his score. He graduated from the University of British Columbia in Vancouver, BC, Canada and has been in Korea to witness the explosive growth of golf since 1996. Despite playing golf for over 30 years and being a perpetual 10-handicapper, James steadfastly claims to be the embodiment of the Average Joe Korean golfer. He can be reached at jimmyinseoul@gmail.com, and often introduces cool new Asia-based golf gear on YouTube and Instagram.

13 Comments

13 Comments

  1. brainsagolfer

    Jul 27, 2020 at 10:23 am

    Those masks – and any other ones are not gonna fly while golfing in 105 degree heat index in SC.

  2. Tyler Durden

    Jul 26, 2020 at 12:12 am

    GOLFWRX doesn’t like linking covid and the failed us response so the censor what they don’t like

  3. Mark

    Jul 25, 2020 at 7:52 pm

    Slaves and *******. Pfft.

    • Dumb Americans

      Jul 26, 2020 at 4:46 am

      Oh my, I didn’t know wearing a mask was an infringement of your rights! What a special little strawberry aren’t ya?

      • Josh

        Jul 26, 2020 at 3:39 pm

        You’re obviously a foreigner and know nothing of American rights. Directives and decrees are not laws, even though governors and their bureau-rats like to think so. Our rights don’t end where your paranoia begins. A small minority of Americans understand what I just said. You will never understand it.

        Now go back to the pasture.

  4. Scott Harrison

    Jul 24, 2020 at 8:54 pm

    Golfing Daft Punk

  5. Delbert

    Jul 24, 2020 at 4:38 pm

    Seeing no masks every day at the course. People don’t think this is serious. Yet our state keeps getting more cases and more deaths every day. We ask, but people just give you the look and move on. Give me the authority to kick them off, and things would change.

    • stanley

      Jul 25, 2020 at 2:22 pm

      you expect people to wear mask outside at the golf course?

      • Delbert

        Jul 27, 2020 at 10:34 am

        Our mandate requires masks in public places indoors and outside if you can’t practice social distancing.

  6. ActualFacts

    Jul 24, 2020 at 11:25 am

    Korea took the coronavirus threat very seriously from the beginning. They didn’t politicize a global health crisis…instead they took swiftly appropriate action.

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The Gear Dive: Elk is in the house!

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In this episode of TGD brought to you by Titleist, Johnny chats with the one, the only, the legend Steve Elkington.

Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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The differences between good and bad club fitters—and they’re not what you think

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Club fitting is still a highly debated topic, with many golfers continuing to believe they’re just not good enough to be fit. That couldn’t be further from the truth, but it’s a topic for another day.

Once you have decided to invest in your game and equipment, however, the next step is figuring out where to get fit, and working with a fitter.  You see, unlike professionals in other industries, club fitting “certification” is still a little like the wild west. While there are certification courses and lesson modules from OEMs on how to fit their specific equipment, from company to company, there is still some slight variance in philosophy.

Then there are agnostic fitting facilities that work with a curated equipment matrix from a number of manufacturers. Some have multiple locations all over the country and others might only have a few smaller centralized locations in a particular city. In some cases, you might even be able to find single-person operations.

So how do you separate the good from the bad? This is the million-dollar question for golfers looking to get fit. Unless you have experience going through a fitting before or have a base knowledge about fitting, it can feel like an intimidating process. This guide is built to help you ask the right questions and pay attention to the right things to make sure you are getting the most out of your fitting.

The signs of a great fitter

  • Launch monitor experience: Having some type of launch monitor certification isn’t a requirement but being able to properly understand the interpret parameters is! A good fitter should be able to explain the parameters they are using to help get the right clubs and understand how to tweak specs to help you get optimized. The exact labeling may vary depending on the type of launch monitor but they all mostly provide the same information….Here is an example of what a fitter should be looking for in an iron fitting: “The most important parameter in an iron fitting” 
  • Communication skills: Being able to explain why and how changes are being made is a telltale sign your fitter is knowledgeable—it should feel like you are learning something along the way. Remember, communication is a two-way street so also being a good listener is another sign your working with a good fitter.
  • Transparency: This involves things like talking about price, budgets, any brand preferences from the start. This prevents getting handed something out of your price range and wasting swings during your fit.
  • A focus on better: Whether it be hitting it further and straighter with your driver or hitting more greens, the fitting should be goal-orientated. This means looking at all kinds of variables to make sure what you are getting is actually better than your current clubs. Having a driver you hit 10 yards farther isn’t helpful if you don’t know where it’s going….A great fitter that knows their stuff should quickly be able to narrow down potential options to 4-5 and then work towards optimizing from there.
  • Honesty and respect: These are so obvious, I shouldn’t even have to put it on the list. I want to see these traits from anybody in a sales position when working with customers that are looking to them for knowledge and information…If you as the golfer is only seeing marginal gains from a new product or an upgrade option, you should be told that and given the proper information to make an informed decision. The great fitters, and I’ve worked with a lot of them, will be quick to tell a golfer, “I don’t think we’re going to beat (X) club today, maybe we should look at another part of your bag where you struggle.” This kind of interaction builds trust and in the end results in happy golfers and respected fitters.

The signs of a bad fitter

  • Pushing an agenda: This can come in all kinds of shapes and sizes. Whether it be a particular affinity towards certain brands of clubs or even shafts. If you talk to players that have all been to the same fitter and their swings and skill levels vary yet the clubs or brands of shafts they end up with (from a brand agnostic facility) seem to be eerily similar it might be time to ask questions.
  • Poor communications: As you are going through the fitting process and warming up you should feel like you’re being interviewed as a way to collect data and help solve problems in your game. This process helps create a baseline of information for your fitter. If you are not experiencing that, or your fitter isn’t explaining or answering your questions directly, then there is a serious communication problem, or it could show lack of knowledge depth when it comes to their ability.
  • Lack of transparency: If you feel like you’re not getting answers to straightforward questions or a fitter tells you “not to worry about it” then that is a big no-no from me.
    Side note: It is my opinion that golfers should pay for fittings, and in a way consider it a knowledge-gathering session. Of course, the end goal for the golfer is to find newer better fitting clubs, and for the fitter to sell you them (let’s be real here), but you should never feel the information is not being shared openly.
  • Pressure sales tactics: It exists in every industry, I get it, but if you pay for your fitting you are paying for information, use it to your advantage. You shouldn’t feel pressured to buy, and it’s always OK to seek out a knowledgeable second opinion (knowledgeable being a very key word in that sentence!).  If you are getting the hard sell or any combination of the traits above, there is a good chance you’re not working with the right fitter for you.

Final thoughts

Great fitters with great reputations and proper knowledge have long lists, even waiting lists, of golfers waiting to see them. The biggest sign of a great fitter is a long list of repeat customers.

Golf is a game that can be played for an entire lifetime, and just like with teachers and swing coaches, the good ones are in it for the long haul to help you play better and build a rapport—not just sell you the latest and greatest (although we all like new toys—myself included) because they can make a few bucks.

Trust your gut, and ask questions!

 

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Check out the full podcast on SoundCloud below, or click here to listen on iTunes or here to listen on Spotify.

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