While each of the leaders of the game has various, common constituencies to serve – players, sponsors and headquarters staff – Seth Waugh has a different, outsized constituency to worry about. As chief executive officer of the PGA of America, Waugh was responsible for leading its 29,000 men and women members in 2020.
When golf was locked down in various parts of the United States early in the COVID-19 pandemic, many of those members were hurting. Layoffs and furloughs were as common in the golf industry as they were in the restaurant world.
Working with his staff and elected officers, Waugh led the effort to create the Golf Emergency Relief Fund. It was intended to provide short-term financial assistance to workers in the industry who were facing pandemic-related financial hardships. Approximately $8 million was raised and dispersed after the program was announced April 13, much of it going to members of the PGA of America.
As spring gave way to summer, golf began to prosper around the world, a light of sorts in the global darkness. Participation surged and by late autumn it was estimated that as many as 50 million more rounds would be played in the United States compared to 2019. In a matter of months, trepidation turned to enthusiasm.
“The members of the PGA of America met the moment in 2020. You cannot give them enough credit for how they helped the game thrive in a most challenging environment."
“What we looked at and said, 'OK, golf courses at their root are a park, right? People actually need to get outside and do things,' ” Waugh said. “If you or I carried our own bag and walked on an empty golf course, that's pretty safe no matter what. How do you do it in a way that's responsible?”
Tee times became precious, an in-demand commodity in the business of golf. For members of the PGA of America and PGA organizations around the world, the challenge was meeting the sudden and borderline overwhelming demand. Courses were busy dawn to dusk, taxing staffs who were also charged with setting and enforcing coronavirus-related restrictions.
“The members of the PGA of America met the moment in 2020,” said Waugh. “You cannot give them enough credit for how they helped the game thrive in a most challenging environment.
“We herded the industry on that one. We should. That's our job. Our job is to grow the game. We touch it at every level. Everybody else has got their swimming lane, we kind of have the whole pool, right? Yeah, it should be our job, but not exclusively. We weren't out there telling everybody what to do, we were soliciting everybody's opinion and trying to coordinate it all."
The PGA Tour, the USGA, and the LPGA all contributed to the Emergency Relief Fund, as did other U.S.-based industry organizations. On May 18, the R&A announced the COVID-19 Support Fund, a £7 million program designed to help national associations, clubs and facilities. When the European Tour resumed play, it announced the Golf For Good effort, which raised money that was distributed to charities local to the host communities for the remaining schedule.
Golf, which in the past several decades has raised countless millions for worthy charities around the globe, stepped up in 2020 to take care of its own. It was a thing to behold.
Jim Nugent and Ron Green Jr.