‘It’s exciting to see the sport as a unifier:’ World Golf Foundation CEO talks golf post-COVID

World Golf Foundation
World Golf Foundation

Welcome to Industry Spotlight, where Golf News Hub discusses the changing golf landscape with a prominent member of the industry. This is the second installment in our series (Read the first interview here.)

Greg McLaughlin currently serves as CEO of the World Golf Foundation and President of The First Tee. Based in Florida, he is also a member of the PGA Tour Executive Committee. He also previously served as an executive vice president and President of the PGA Tour Champions.

GNH: How have you personally been dealing with the coronavirus pandemic?

Greg McLaughlin: I’ve worked in the golf industry for more than 30 years and COVID-19 is unlike anything we’ve ever seen. The pandemic has caused unprecedented business and personal disruption and while there are many downsides to it, the spirit of collaboration and unification across the game of golf has been incredible. I’m proud that the entire industry has come together with one voice to highlight the many benefits that golf provides.

Additionally, we’ve worked closely with all the allied golf organizations on the federal and state advocacy issues and know that there is more to come as the country navigates the economic fallout. I’m also proud of the industry’s efforts to create the Back2Golf operational guidelines, which is a playbook endorsed by the CDC and other medical experts. It offers a concise framework as communities begin to open across the U.S. to ensure that golfers and course operators act responsibly on the golf course. I believe that we have a long road ahead in terms of recovery. However, I’m optimistic that golf has an opportunity to both serve our current core golf community as well as providing an opportunity for new people to experience it.

How has your company dealt with the situation?

Our team at the World Golf Foundation (WGF) oversees two primary businesses: We Are Golf initiatives, which is an industry coalition of leading golf organizations working together to communicate the game's economic, charitable, environmental and fitness benefits, and the World Golf Hall of Fame. The COVID-19 has created disruptions to our businesses like many people, but we have been able to continue our work on behalf of the golf industry. Fortunately, technology has replaced the face-to-face interaction we get from being in the office, but this new form of communication has been critical to our success. Since the start of the pandemic, our focus has been centered around providing the industry with the most up-to-date resources to assist companies and organizations in making the most effective decisions during this unique and difficult time while keeping health and safety as the number one priority.

What are your thoughts on how the pandemic has affected the golf industry?

Like every industry, golf has been faced with challenges throughout the pandemic. At the peak of the virus, the outdoor golf space remained open in 40% of U.S. courses. Today golf is open at almost 100% of all available golf courses. The consumer experience that golfers have been accustomed to over the years has changed due to the circumstances, but people are back to enjoying the game and the many health and recreational benefits that golf provides.

As communities began to open, the allied golf organizations established the Back2Golf operational guidelines that followed the CDC’s and the White House’s three-phase approach to “Opening Up America Again.” This resource has provided golf courses with valuable information on operating their outdoor golf space and clubhouses in a responsible manner. Golf is one of the few recreational sports individuals can participate in outside of their homes while practicing social distancing. We’re seeing an influx of people coming to their local golf courses. It’s exciting to see the sport as a unifier during the pandemic.

What about the future of the golf industry in this “new normal”?

As we all adjust to this new way of living, the golf industry shares a very optimistic outlook on the future of the game. We have seen an increase in the overall interest in playing golf the last several years from both the casual golfer and those who have not ever played the game. It’s important that the industry remains cautious in creating a responsible environment for individuals to enjoy the game because we need the core golfers to feel secure, but we also want to welcome new golfers to the game as well. The Back2Golf operational guidelines provide that necessary plan to ensure golfers and course operators act responsibly when they are enjoying the game.

What is your biggest takeaway from undergoing this ordeal?

We’ve seen unprecedented creativity and collaboration from the golf industry on many levels throughout the pandemic. We have also seen the agile nature of the industry adapt to the quickly changing environment for the benefit of the golfer and golf course operator. Competitors and collaborators coming together to do whatever it takes to help the industry throughout a time of crisis has been incredibly heartening to witness. We will continue to navigate through the challenges ahead and continue to advocate on behalf of the golf industry.

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About the Author
David Wood is an author, world traveler and former stand-up comedian with several David Letterman Show appearances under his belt. A few years back, he took a one-year sabbatical to travel to exotic golf locales around the globe. He turned the adventure into the critically acclaimed book Around the World in 80 Rounds.” His new golf video blog “Have Clubs Will Travel” is featured on The Morning Read. He resides in New York City.