With most of golf on hold across Canada, those in the business of golf are trying to adapt.
Manufacturers, professionals, players and club managers are seeking out ways to stay busy and give back to the communities they represent.
"It’s an interesting time to be creative and that’s what we’re doing," said Brett Saunders, brand manager at Levelwear, one of the country’s leading golf and sportswear clothing companies.
At this time of year, Levelwear’s facility in Richmond Hill, Ont., is usually humming along, creating golf shirts and outerwear, as well as logoed clothing for major sports leagues in North America.
Its clothing is worn by Adam Hadwin, Corey Conners and Michael Gligic on the PGA Tour, and it has endorsement deals with many other professional athletes in other sports.
But with the sports world on hold, the company decided to use its talents to help in the battle against COVID-19.
It started when Major League Baseball, one of its licensee partners, reached out in its search for obsolete material that could be used in creating masks. The company was able to donate a large amount to be upcycled.
Following that lead, Saunders said the company realized it had a lot of assets that could be put to work.
"We have 400 embroidery machines and 15 commercial sewing machines, and our design team came up with a plan for making masks using two layers of fabric," he said.
The company started churning out roughly 800 non-medical grade units a day and hopes to create about 20,000. Some of those have been donated to the Toronto Transit Commission to protect its workers.
If that wasn’t enough, Levelwear has also reached out to some of its offshore partners and will be receiving roughly 100,000 masks through that channel as well.
"It’s pretty awesome to be a part of a program like this with all our employees," added Saunders. "We’re not uniquely qualified, but we are certainly capable."
That same ingenuity was found at Flags Unlimited, the country’s leading flag maker.
A healthy part of its business is making the pin flags found at golf courses throughout North America, most of which are sold through resellers. It recently created the flags that were to be used for the Augusta National Women’s Amateur, a tournament that was to be held just before the Masters. It has since been cancelled.
Matt Skipp, the company’s co-president, said they started to think of ways they could help out with its team of sewers and designers, which are usually focused on creating Maple Leafs.
"We came up with a design for masks," he said, "and we’ve been churning out as many as possible."
The company also has experience in importing from China, where much of its material comes from. That led it to source out more masks in that country, bringing them to use in the fight against the virus in Canada.
But Flags Unlimited also decided it could play to its strengths and created flags with a design that salutes health care and front-line workers.
"We’re hoping that local governments and hospitals as well as anyone else, really, will fly the flags as a show of support," said Skipp.
The most important part of this venture is that it’s also a fundraising effort, with a portion of every sale being donated to CanadaHelps.org.
Charity has also been a driving force for a number of golf clubs.
TPC Toronto at Osprey Valley, a 54-hole facility in Caledon, Ont., that hosts the Osprey Valley Open, a stop on the Mackenzie Tour-PGA Tour Canada, is shuttered right now as golf in Ontario has been deemed non-essential. But that didn’t stop it from donating to three charities in its area – the Children’s Aid Foundation, Caledon Meals on Wheels and the Orangeville Food Bank. Along with the Humeniuk Foundation, which is run by the family that owns the golf facility, a total of $125,000 went to agencies providing COVIC-19 relief for locals.
In Vancouver, the municipally owned Langara Golf Course has been shuttered for golfers but the clubhouse has been turned into a centre to package food hampers to be delivered to the city’s needy. Park board staff assemble the units twice a week and then send them out to social housing residents.
In Calgary, Barry Ehlert, the managing partner of the Windmill Golf Group, is using his courses to help in a different way – by giving those who work on the front line a chance to play golf for free.
"For 30 days we’re going to have a draw for essential workers to be able to golf at one of our five courses," he told CTV News last week. "We’ve had people [enter] who work in grocery stores to doctors and nurses to so many different people that are out there right now, doing so much good."
The winners will get their chance to play once Alberta’s courses are up and running. They are currently closed by order of the provincial government.
The PGA of Canada, the association of the country’s golf professionals, is providing help in a different way: to its membership. With most pro shops closed, professionals are having a difficult time with many aspects of their job.
Kevin Thistle, the CEO of the association, estimated that about 35 per cent of the membership is currently unemployed. He added that at this time of the year, that’s not entirely unusual as many courses in the country would typically not be open until late April or early May.
Still, the PGA of Canada has embarked on a number of projects. One of the most ambitious is to call every one of its 3,700 members.
"We’re about 20 per cent there at the moment and making more calls every day," said Thistle. "A lot of our members are alone and we just want to check in and see how they’re doing."
The group is also hosting free webinars for its members on topics ranging from how to communicate with members during the COVID-19 pandemic to how to teach the regular golfer.
And to help the professionals who might have a pro shop full of new gear but are unable to sell it, the association worked with one of its partners, Matchplay Golf Marketing, to create a tool that will allow pros to easily sell their wares online.
As with so many industries, it’s not an easy time for the business of golf, which contributes roughly $11 billion annually to Canada’s GDP. But most are finding ways to contribute, to give back and to look out for each other. It’s really the only way to proceed during these unusual times.