THE golf industry, like most other sectors of the economy, endured another turbulent year, borne mostly from the pandemic.
But it must be conceded that golf did enjoy some respite in the back end of 2021, even if it was measured. In contrast to the lockdowns of 2020 and earlier this year that brought the sport, and many others like it, to a standstill, there were openings with the relaxing of restrictions that spawned optimism across the spectrum game.
Clubs, country clubs and driving ranges, among the worst hit by the adverse effects of the pandemic, welcomed the return of golfers and with it the opportunity to generate revenue on a more regular basis.
And as TeeUp reported last week, most clubs are buoyant and looking forward to a better 2022, barring the omicron variant forcing further closures of their businesses, or the emergence of any similar variants of the virus.
The club golfers themselves were just pleased to be able to get out onto the course. Such was the turnaround in the fourth quarter of this year that monthly medal tournaments are being played and corporate events organised again.
But the local professional game was not as fortunate. The Professional Golf of Malaysia (PGM) Tour was again obliterated by the pandemic with not even one tournament played.
The PGM Tour sadly lost their pioneer Tun Ahmad Sarji, who passed away in August, at the age of 82. The founder and driving force behind the local pro circuit, his absence will sorely be missed for some time to come.
It is worth noting that there are plans in the pipeline to resuscitate the PGM Tour next February, provided the pandemic does not worsen and approval is granted by the relevant authorities.
The two big international men’s events, the Maybank Championship on the European Tour and the Malaysian Open on the Asian Tour, were called off because of travel restrictions associated with Covid-19.
Some of the local pros did get to travel to international events, among them the two recent Asian Tour stops on Thailand.
Gavin Green, too, played again on the European Tour, albeit not as well as he might have liked.
Not more than a handful played on the women’s circuits in the United States, where Kelly Tan featured on the LPGA Tour and last weekend retained her card for 2022 at the Q Series.
Alyaa Abdulghany, who turned pro prior to the Qualifiers, fell just short of making the second and final week of the Q Series. For her efforts, she will compete on the LPGA’s feeder circuit next season, the Symetra Tour.
Genevieve Ling, another young Malaysian player aspiring to play on the LPGA Tour, did not get through the qualifiers themselves.
Malaysia’s leading amateurs made their way to the Asia-Pacific Amateur Championships (men) in Dubai and in Abu Dhabi (women), where good showings were registered.
At the Dubai Creek Golf & Yacht Club the country’s top-ranked Khavish Varman Varadan finished tied for 18th place.
In the Women’s Amateur Asia-Pacific Championship at Abu Dhabi Golf Club top-ranked Natasha Andrea Oon was T11, while Ashley Lau, second in the Malaysian standings, finished in sixth place.
There were sighs of relief also from the retail sector. It is widely reported that most of them (the retailers) bounced back nicely after the reopening of the national economy.
This was a trend that global retail also reported and hopes are that it will continue with a strengthening going into 2022.
On the international scene the Olympic Games at Kasumigaseki Country Club in Kawagoe, outside Tokyo, stood out. This was where Xander Schauffele won the United States their first gold medal since 1900. The sport was reintroduced to the Games at the 2016 Olympics in Rio de Janeiro. Solvakia’s Rory Sabbatini took the bronze and Taipei’s Pan Cheng-tsung silver.
In the women’s category American Nelly Korda claimed the gold medal, while Mone Inami of home nation Japan won the silver and New Zealander Lydia Ko took home the bronze.
There were four first-time Major winners on the LPGA Tour. Thailand’s Patty Tavatanakit, who was also chosen the Rookie of the Year, won the ANA Inspiration, while Yuka Saso won the US Women’s Open as a Filipino, but changed her nationality to Japanese a few months later. The Women’s US PGA Championship went to Korda, who also finished the season as the world number one and Australian Minjee Lee captured the Evian title before Sweden’s Anna Nordqvist won her third Major at the Women’s British Open.
Amidst all that, South Korean Jin Young Ko, who started the year as world number one, won five tournaments.
The 26-year-old won the Volunteers of America Classic, Portland Classic, Founders Cup, BMW Ladies Championship and successfully defended the lucrative season-ending CME Group Tour Championship. This is the richest event in women’s golf and carried prize money of US$1.5mil for the winner alone.
Ko posted eight other top-10s and now has 12 career LPGA Tour titles. She also finished the season as the Rolex Player of the Year and Money List winner.
For good measure she matched a 16-year-old record of 14 consecutive rounds in the 60s.
She was indeed the best in the women’s game this year, and last.
The men’s game had a cloud hanging over it somewhat with the US PGA Tour readjusting itself to stave what it perceives as a threat posed by Saudi Golf trying to put in place a plan of setting up a world Tour.
What this has led to are possible sanctions for some of the Tour’s star players, if they take part in the Saudi International in February without approval.
This event, for the last three seasons, was hosted by the European Tour, which the PGA Tour now has a stake in.
It will fall under the auspices of the Asian Tour when it returns to Royal Greens Golf & Country Club in King Abdullah Economic City in February, and where the new organisers have said Americans like two-time champion Dustin Johnson, Bryson De Chambeau and Phil Mickelson, all Major winners, will play alongside Tommy Fleetwood, Ian Poulter, Lee Westwood and Sergio Garcia, all of whom featured for Europe in last September’s Ryder Cup.
The PGA Tour’s stand stems from what they see as a poor Saudi human rights record. But this has drawn ridicule from some who say it a typical case of American bullying, while being totally hypocritical.
It certainly overshadows the Masters win of Hideki Matsuyama, the PGA Championship triumph of Mickelson at the age of 50, Jon Rahm’s US Open victory and Collin Morikawa’s second Major title at the British Open.
It also left the American’s convincing Ryder Cup win over Europe pale in the background.
Hopefully, though, this too will sort itself out and next year will be one that we can look back on with great pride and the pandemic in the rear view mirror.