Annika’s Thoughts on Junior Golf and the Coronavirus
Originally published in the May 1 edition of Morning Read
Professional golf is ramping up to return in June, and as a former touring pro, that’s exciting news. But these days my focus is on the amateur game, and the timeline to resume amateur tournaments is much less clear.
This uncertainty extends to countless junior events – golf tournaments, camps, clinics and group lessons – that are so crucial to kids building a life-long love affair with the game.
According to the National Golf Foundation, there are between 2.5 and 3 million junior golfers in the U.S. – that’s a pretty sizable number! And while this range has remained steady in recent years, the share of female junior golfers has increased quite significantly, from 15% in 2000 to 36% today.
While we’re admittedly all in uncharted waters when it comes to the virus, I believe that the considerable momentum golf has built in the junior ranks will continue despite the pandemic.
As we’ve seen, more and more golf courses have opened across the country as the weather has warmed up and operating procedures have been adjusted to allow for social distancing. So long as the safety guidelines are followed, it appears that golf can be a great escape for families to get outside, exercise and have a little fun. Then, as we slowly open the country in the coming weeks and months, I’m hopeful that opportunities for individual and small group lessons will next return.
I’m less sure, however, about the chances of national or global junior tournaments returning any earlier than August. My ANNIKA Foundation, for example, decided to cancel our two junior events scheduled for June in Sweden – the ANNIKA Invitational Europe and ANNIKA Cup. While disappointed, we felt it was best to follow the guidance of local officials and ensure the health and well-being of all our players and their families, tournament organizers, volunteers and vendors. This followed the cancellation of our February event in China.
A possible silver lining to these difficult decisions about tournaments at the global and national level is that local junior events – if held – could see much stronger fields than usual this summer. Competitors are going to want to remain sharp and playing tournaments within a short drive of home could be their best option. This change of scenery, and perhaps greater opportunities to win, could be beneficial to them as well – as has been said, there are many things to be learned from playing the back nine with a lead, no matter the competition. Or put another way, winning can often lead to more winning.
Although there are undoubtedly short-term challenges to overcome during these unprecedented times, I don’t foresee long-term changes to junior golf and how it’s played and taught. If anything, I think golf stands a great chance to emerge from the crisis more popular than ever, as people of all ages are increasingly drawn to its outdoor setting, opportunity for exercise and many other positive attributes.