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Golf continues to thrive amid coronavirus pandemic

The coronavirus pandemic has had a devastating impact on businesses all across the country with revenue down significantly across a wide swath of industries.

But golf continues to thrive.

New data compiled by the National Golf Foundation show that rounds played this summer across the country are up significantly from 2019.

How significant? Rounds were up 20 percent nationally in July. That comes on top of June, where rounds were up 14 percent over 2019. Business has been so strong that, despite most courses being closed for a significant part of the spring, rounds for the year are up 3 percent over 2019.

The sport has been particularly strong among young players. NGF experts anticipate golfers under 18 will play 500,000 more rounds in 2020 than they did in 2019.

The national trend is taking place in Southern Nevada, too. Thom Blinkinsop, regional general manager for Red Rock Country Club, said play has been strong and steady at his private and public courses, and he’s hearing the same stories from his peers across Las Vegas.

Along with more young players, Blinkinsop has noticed a significant increase in players returning to the game who had given up on golf.

“People are looking for something to do, and golf has given them that option to get outside safely for a few hours,” he said.

Count Las Vegas resident Phil Sargent among those who have given golf a second look while introducing the game to his daughter Sam, 15, and son Garrett, 13.

“We’d played enough board games and binged enough Netflix in the first few weeks of the lockdown,” Sargent said. “Golf gives us a chance to do something else as a family.”

The Sargents have played primarily at Durango Hills and the Cloud Nine course at Angel Park, short courses good for beginners.

Blinkinsop said the new and returning players will present a welcome challenge to course managers.

“When this (pandemic) is all over and life gets back to normal, we have to figure out how to keep them coming back,” he said.

U.S. Open week

It’s three months late, but the U.S. Open arrives this week in Mamaronek, New York, at famed Winged Foot Golf Club, one of the country’s toughest courses. Winged Foot has hosted five previous U.S. Opens and only once produced a winner under par.

The most recent Massacre at Mamaronek was in 2006, when Geoff Ogilvy won the tournament at 5 over. It was the first time in 28 years that nobody finished under par at the U.S. Open.

Needing a par to win on the finishing hole, Phil Mickelson made double bogey, leading to his infamous “I am such an idiot” comment on the 18th green. Colin Montgomerie and Jim Furyk also stumbled on the 72nd hole to give Ogilvy his only major championship win.

Whether Winged Foot plays any differently in September is anybody’s guess. The weather will be in the 60s and humid, and as has been the case since the restart, no fans are allowed.

Among the storylines:

— The coronavirus has impacted the field. Scottie Scheffler and Sam Horsfield have withdrawn after positive tests.

— Dustin Johnson and Jon Rahm are the hottest players on the PGA Tour, and Las Vegan Collin Morikawa will be looking for his second straight major victory after winning the PGA Championship this year.

— And in the tournament’s lightest moment, actor Michael O’Keefe, who played caddie Danny Noonan in the 1980 classic “Caddyshack,” will be carrying the bag for Danny Balin. O’Keefe, a golf nut who grew up not far from Winged Foot, will be sporting a Bushwood CC hat while he loops.

Wrapping up the season

One week after winning the Tour Championship to conclude the 2019-2020 PGA Tour season, Johnson was voted player of the year by his peers. He had three wins, including two in the playoffs. He also won the award in 2016.

Other contenders for the honor were Justin Thomas, the only other three-time winner, and Morikawa, who won twice, including the only major played during the season.

Scheffler, who finished fifth in the FedEx Cup standings, was named rookie of the year. He didn’t have a win, but he tied for fourth at the PGA Championship and shot a 59 at TPC Boston during the Northern Trust.

Greg Robertson is a freelance reporter who covers golf for the Review-Journal. He can be reached at robertsongt@gmail.com.

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