One Year Later Golf Knows Its Place in the New World


Dave Heatwole, a senior design associate for Jack Nicklaus golf course design company, picked up his rental car at LaGuardia about 8:45 a.m. on Tuesday, September 11, 2001.
He watched life change from a distance.
Like many in the golf industry, Dave saw priorities shift at frightening speed. Golf ' and all sports ' receded into the background as America tried to absorb its national horror. Thats as it should be, for it was all too much to take. And although those who said cancellation of the Ryder Cup and other events showed weakness, it just felt wrong for a while to celebrate or play. That feeling overwhelmed any concerns about showing a chink in our armor.
That New York [golf course] project kind of halted after that, Heatwole said 364 days later at the site of another under-construction Nicklaus course near Charlotte, N.C. There was regret in his voice, but it had nothing to do with revenue.
The golf industry, like many economic segments, has had a tough time over the past year. Equipment, course ownership, rounds played, travel ' its all sluggish, and most of the trouble can be traced to the calamity of the attacks in New York, Pennsylvania and at the Pentagon. For reasons that seem obvious but are nonetheless hard to articulate, people dont want to travel as much, or spend as much. And in a golf economy in which a set of premium irons can cost as much as a refrigerator or large-screen television, that attitude puts the brakes on business in a hurry.
And yet the people who work the golf business every day utter hardly a word of complaint. In talk after talk with sales reps, marketing directors, and executives, I hear a were-all-in-this-together spirit. Of course, everyone would like business to be better. But somewhere, a little girl would like her daddy to come home, and she knows he never will.
We at The Golf Channel often say, when the mainstream news cycle presents a story that knocks golf further back in the national consciousness, Were not curing cancer here. We love what we do, but we try to maintain some perspective about how it fits into the lives of our viewers and readers.
September 11 was that situation, multiplied by 3,000. Thats why we suspended live programming for a time after the attacks.
But life has gone on, and so has the industry. Product introductions have proceeded, golf balls are being assembled, painted, boxed and sold, and people are playing, although not always in the numbers they did before.
Patience is what is needed. Some golf companies have been using this down time to make ready for an upsurge in demand once we see what our new national normal will look like.
Meanwhile, we look for the respectful medium between enthusiasm for the future and sensitivity to the past, between the enervation of hope and the ache of dutiful memory. We hug our children more, worry over our long irons less, and stare at the bedroom ceiling longer into the night.
There is much in golf that cant be controlled ' the wind, the grain, our opponent, the breaks ' indeed, one of the games chief lessons involves standing up to adversity with the full knowledge that you cannot completely control the elements that will decide your fate. The only certain failure comes from failing to do anything. Well-executed effort increases your chances of success.
It is my hope that the lesson has rubbed off on generations of golfers who face the sleep-robbing knowledge most adults have realized: That the world swirls around you, and you must do the best you can even as you admit that much of it is beyond your control.
It is my deeper hope that golf has offered a respite to some of the grieving and weary.
Now, whatever the future, lets hit the ball, turn our faces to the sun ' and walk on.