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'How are we going to pull this off?' Missouri Golf Association succeeds in playing through COVID


When Missouri Golf Association Executive Director Scott Hovis looked to the first tee at tournaments this year, a different scene greeted him than he’s grown accustomed to over 15 years in his position.

His staff and interns wore masks and gloves and socially distanced six feet from each other. Golfers did the same, and learned to use the USGA Tournament Management app to keep their score instead of doing so on paper. The app made it easier for family members and friends to follow along with tournaments without actually being there in person.

“For us [the pandemic] was good and bad,” Hovis said. “It was good that we learned that we can run a golf tournament a different way. It was bad at first because we didn’t know some of the ways we could do it, but we learned really quick. I’ve given a lot of credit to the staff here. The interns that we have have adjusted on the fly. The volunteers, the rules officials that work our events and seeing, ‘Hey, there’s some great ways that we can utilize running golf tournaments now that we didn’t use before.’”

In reflecting on when the pandemic first hit in mid-March, Hovis said things were “up and down.” As major sports leagues and college tournaments were shutting down, questions arose in Hovis’ mind.

“At that time you were in the moment,” he said. “You did not know what the summer was gonna look like. When all this hit mid-March, and then really fully exploded in April, your first intuition is what’s worst. Right or wrong, your first intuition is like, ‘How are we going to pull this off?’”

The MGA did manage to pull things off though, losing just four of its 50 tournaments in 2020: two one-day events because of rain and two one-day events because of COVID-19. In fact, Hovis said golf courses thrived.

Missouri was ahead of some of its neighbors in getting back into the swing of things, starting their regular summer tournament schedule on June 1, ahead of neighboring Kansas and Illinois. Besides tournaments, country clubs and courses all over the state saw a 20-40 percent increase in rounds played. That growth made up for a decline in food and beverage sales inside clubs where people couldn’t gather.

“People wanted to get outside,” Hovis said. “Golf’s a sport you can do socially distanced. It was exercise. It was something people could do every day.”

Response from country club-goers and tournament participants about the changes MGA made to ensure COVID safety was “110 percent positive,” Hovis said. The chance to return to some sense of normalcy — in this case, four-to-five hours on a golf course — was greatly appreciated.

The part of Hovis’ job that changed the most was the week-to-week flow of organizing tournaments, which moved from county to county, each with their own COVID-19 guidelines. Missouri Governor Mike Parson never issued state-wide mandates, leaving local governments to set regulations for their own cities and counties. This meant that the MGA had to adjust with each tournament it held in a new location.

“That was the hardest part of the summer,” Hovis said. “Do we have to have masks on? Do we have to check temperatures? Can we have spectators? Can we take the flags out; can we have the rakes out? Each week it was different.”

Many of the arrangements with local governments were cut and dry, but some required a bit of negotiation, Hovis said. Sometimes government officials didn’t realize that the MGA’s amateur tournaments weren’t like the Masters or other PGA Tour events they watch on television. Hovis would have to explain that there are hardly ever spectators even in a normal year, let alone the thousands of fans that show up to professional events.

“It was just educating them on what was going on,” he said. “It’s no disrespect to them. They had so much going on, they just, you know, they see on TV. I don’t think sometimes people understand what amateur golf really is when it comes to that standpoint from the big picture on it.”

While 2020 will have an effect on much of the rest of life as Americans know it for the forseeable future, Hovis said not much will have changed about the MGA and what has changed is for the betterment of the association.

“It has been a trying and tough year, but I think at the end of the day we’re going to take a lot of those negatives that came from this pandemic and things [that] are going on, and we’re going to flip them into positives to help us be more efficient as we go forward”

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