State of the Met: U.S. golf association discusses wide-ranging impact of coronavirus pandemic

Mountain Ridge CC
Mountain Ridge CC will host this year's Met Open.
Courtesy of Met Golf Association

The Metropolitan Golf Association (MGA) is one of the oldest and largest golf associations in the U.S. Since 1897, they have been dedicated to serving the game and providing its members in New Jersey, New York and Connecticut with timely information. Its wide range of services and programs include U.S. Open local and sectional qualifying in partnership with the USGA, to hosting their storied Met Open Championship.

Chris Gaffney, MGA

With the ongoing COVID-19 outbreak, the MGA has had to make tough decisions regarding postponing and canceling some of its annual tournaments and qualifiers. The MGA recently released an updated 2020 tournament schedule. We caught up with Chris Gaffney, MGA’s director of championships, for some added insight on how this golf season might look:

GNH: In general, how have things been going during the early part of the golf season for the MGA?

CG: It has been challenging trying to navigate this new normal. Luckily, we can communicate and work as a team from a distance, but tough because we know the end goal is being outside and hosting competitions for our member players and clubs. The season is just starting here, so we hope to begin rolling out programs at member clubs and courses soon.

Has there ever been in a moment in your time in the golf industry like the current lull we are in? Or something you can look back on for experience?

There is not, personally. Many of my colleagues have looked back on 2009 fiscal crisis for membership and play in general. We have also looked at the years of both world wars because that was the only time the Met Open and Met Amateur were not played. This seems to be a unique hybrid of both.

Have you looked at what the PGA TOUR or other regional / local golf associations are doing regarding rescheduling?

Absolutely. The USGA specifically on what they are doing with their amateur championships. The good news is, unlike the professional tours, we're local, so all our competitors can get in their cars and sleep in their own beds for each qualifier and championship. As a staff we’ll do the same. Some days will be much longer than others, but in the Met Area we are lucky to have so many historic layouts in close proximity. Since we cover three states, we’ll also continue to follow where golf is being allowed. Once all three have given the go-ahead statewide, we can then begin getting ready.

What was the deciding factor in postponing or canceling events so far?

A lot of factors. We are following state, local and CDC guidelines in each decision. We are also really weighing the history of the championship and the ability to modify it. For example, the Public Links Championship is one of our favorite competitions each year because there is no other like it, but with needing all five qualifying dates to be rescheduled from May, we simply could not find space later in the year. Whereas a tournament like the Met Open, we can use exemptions and other routes to qualify golfers.

How have clubs taken the news on the postponements / cancellations?

Our relationship with our member clubs is very strong. The Public Links Championship would have been our first tournament held at Pound Ridge Golf Club and we are very disappointed, but they have already been gracious hosts and look forward to hosting the event next year. Courses across the Met Area have so much more important matters to deal with right now, so we hope to bring some excitement later in the summer.

Do you have a timeline in place on when you will have to postpone or cancel championships later in the season?

Our timeline is based on Governor Cuomo and updates from other state officials. We're trying to stay four weeks ahead of schedule, so right now we are looking at early June based off the most recent update. Businesses are supposed to begin reopening May 15, so we hope that sticks and we can begin play a couple weeks later.

What type of precautions will the MGA be taking when tournaments and qualifiers begin again?

There are a tremendous amount of conversations with other golf associations, doctors and health officials who understand this pandemic better than us. Nothing official has been set in place but things like digital scorecards will certainly be used. Each golf course will also have their own restrictions that we will adhere to at each qualifier / championship. With so much uncertainty we’ll begin to aggregate everything we know and then put policies in place closer to our June start date.

Do you see a lasting effect the pandemic might have on the MGA and golf in general?

There will be some sort of lasting impact. Procedures at each member club will be altered in some way and some of the pleasantries we exchange during a round will have to be rethought. Don't think we’ll be shaking hands at the end of rounds anytime soon, but these moments in time normally always bring out better efficiencies to our society and golf should be an activity where people can feel comfortable playing sooner rather than later.

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About the Author
Dan Wooters has been with Buffalo Groupe since May 2018. He began his career with the Metropolitan Golf Association in Elmsford, N.Y., and has mostly remained in the golf industry ever since, including stints with the PGA of America and PGA TOUR. Dan is a two-time graduate of Marquette University in Milwaukee. He is a part-time hotel owner and enjoys traveling the world as much as he can. He currently resides in Arlington, Va.