If the COVID-19 crisis has taught the world anything, it is that dystopian doomsayers are dead wrong. When devastation strikes, when widespread crisis hits everyone like a board to the head, civilization does not crumble and devolve into a Mad Max movie. Quite the opposite. From Pearl Harbor to 9/11 to the current coronavirus pandemic, mankind continues to come through in ways big and small.
In crises past, churches filled, volunteer centers sprang up overnight and donations – from money, to blood, to food, clothing, shelter and love – overflowed. The mechanics of this pandemic are different. We must, by regulation and common decency, stay away from each other and avoid the kind of physical contact that has bonded humans for millennia. But that separation hasn’t stopped an outpouring of giving. If anything, forced isolation has brought us closer in that way. No government agency mandated the rampant giving. No bureaucracy managed it. This has grown from the bottom up, people organizing in seconds, donating in minutes and making a profound difference in a matter of hours.
Mike Rowley, owner of the California-based golf apparel company Straight Down, ... knew nothing about medical-grade masks on the first of March. By the first of April, he was making 100,000 of them along with 30,000 protective gowns for hospital personnel.
Golf as an industry and golfers as individuals are right in the thick of it. From tour players making substantial donations to their local hospitals to local foursomes pitching in to keep their club’s wait staff whole, golf has stepped up, even as the business of the game has been hit harder than most.
Take Mike Rowley, owner of the California-based golf apparel company Straight Down, for example. Rowley knew nothing about medical-grade masks on the first of March. By the first of April, he was making 100,000 of them along with 30,000 protective gowns for hospital personnel.
“Three weeks ago, everybody was going about their business, and now masks might be a new way of life for the next few months," Rowley said.
Seamus Golf, a boutique company known for making specialty headcovers that was featured last year in GGP+ (READ IT HERE), also retooled to make surgical-quality masks, first for healthcare providers and then, as policies shifted, for the general public.
Other golf companies are doing likewise. Billy Draddy, the creative director of Summit Golf Brands, which is the parent company of such notable lines as Fairway & Greene, Zero Restrictions and B. Draddy, should have spent the last week of March finalizing his 2021 spring lines. Instead, Draddy spent an entire weekend at his design table creating a prototype N95 mask good enough to protect healthcare professionals as they treat patients with COVID-19.
Ten days later, using his embroidery and heat-sealing machinery in Wisconsin, Draddy had a mask ready for testing by the Wisconsin Emergency Management agency. Two days after that, he filled his first mask order.
Katherine Way, a dressmaker in Jacksonville, Fla., whose line can be found in high-end golf shops throughout the country, took fabric from her warehouse and, along with 30 volunteers, began making masks. Way also put the dress business on hold to create bright-colored isolation gowns for patients at Baptist Health hospitals.
“It’s very rewarding to know that perhaps we are helping to save somebody’s life,” Way said, fighting back tears.
Players have used their platforms as well. LPGA major champion Danielle Kang and her fiancé, PGA Tour player Maverick McNealy, started a social media campaign around the hashtag #ChallengeEachOther. The original challenge Kang offered was simple: Juggle a golf ball on a club 10 times and then catch it in your pocket. Funds raised go to Three Square, a food bank near the couple’s home in Las Vegas, Nev.
“During this time, I know it's very frustrating for us golfers to not be able to practice or compete,” Kang told LPGA.com. “However, we all know that some of us are in a better situation than (others). I personally know that food is an issue for many people whether there is a pandemic or not, which got us to think the problem must've gotten worse.”
Ernie Els put a celebrity face to ClubsHelp.org, a new organization designed to pair golf and country clubs with local hospitals. The Outpost Club, a U.S.-based national golf society, has a foundation that is providing assistance to the game's independent contractors, primarily caddies who had their income evaporate overnight. And the brand IS, makers of golf-specific socks, purchased 1,000 N95 masks for local hospitals.
Club managers in South Florida are transforming their food and beverage operations into free catering services, providing meals to health-care workers. And club professionals around the world are working the phones, rallying their members and raising funds for those in need.
All this while the future of the golf business at every level remains in limbo. According to Straight Down’s Rowley, “it’s pretty painful right now, to be honest. April is one of our busiest months. The Masters (was postponed) and a lot of the green grass courses are closed, and if they are open, the pro shops aren't open.
“But we're going to get through this. We've been through 9/11. We've been through 2008, the financial crisis. We have a great team and we’re going to get through it all."