If a golf course is open near you, will you play?

Each week we ask our panel of writers, PGA members and golf industry experts to weigh in with their views on the hot topics of the day.

Amid the COVID-19 pandemic, people are asking if it’s safe to play golf. While many experts suggest that golf can be played safely if golfers follow precautions, several provincial governments have declared a state of emergency that mandates that all non-essential businesses shut down. Golf Canada CEO Laurence Applebaum has suggested that all Canadian golf courses should close. Do you think it’s safe to play golf and if a course near you is open, will you play? 

Jim Deeks, Fairways Magazine (@jimdeeks): Yes, I do believe it’s safe to PLAY golf, but not use club buildings.  I think nearly everyone (over the age of 22, and not on a beach) now understands the precautions we have to take. But I don’t see how 2-4 people playing golf in wide open surroundings is providing anyone, or each other, with any threat — so long as they stay 6ft apart.  I will be very unhappy if golf courses don’t make themselves available on this basis.

Michael Schurman, Master Professional / Hall of Fame Member, PGA of Canada: A week ago, I thought I was brilliant to suggest golf as an option.  Today, I think it’s irresponsible. If every person lived a self-isolated life and extreme social distancing for the next few weeks, we could go a long way to limiting the damage of this virus. There is no better way to think about things than to assume you have it. There are many lawsuits against people who had sex knowing they were HIV positive – how is this different? Stay home! Wash your hands regularly!

Dave Kaplan, Freelance Writer (@davykap): Absolutely not!! Getting my golf fix is not worth jeopardizing the health of millions of people. I miss golf as much as any other diehard out there, but I’m staying inside and waiting this nightmare out. We all have a part to play right now to beat this thing, and golf will be there waiting for us when we eventually persevere.

Hal Quinn, Freelance Writer, Vancouver: Weather permitting (rain sure puts a damper on this self-confinement thing), I have accepted an invite to a private club this week as the munis are closed. Despite the staff sanitizing the cart handles and the cashiers behind screens, I think a grocery store is a lot more dangerous than a course. One feeds the body, but the other feeds the soul.

Peter Mumford, Fairways Magazine (@FairwaysMag): Right now, all non-essential businesses in Ontario are mandated to shut down for 14 days. However, when that order is lifted, I hope golf courses opt to open, at least in a limited way. Getting some fresh air and exercise is the best way I know to stay healthy, and if I can hit a few shots while maintaining appropriate social distance and not touching anything, even better. I’ll definitely play if there are courses open.

The professional tours are cancelling tournaments on the fly and postponing majors. Depending on how long the shut-down lasts, it could create a mad scramble to jam a lot of key events into a very shortened season or maybe have no season at all. When things return to some version of normal, will this be a learning experience for the tours and if so, what do you hope they will learn?

Deeks: First of all, unless there’s a drastic turnaround (which I sure don’t foresee), I think the Tour(s) should put a May 31 deadline on the decision as to whether the entire 2020 season should be canceled.  I’m sure there will be many learnings from this experience, but until it’s over, it’s hard to predict what the takeaways will be.  So far, I think they’ve acted very responsibly, in the best interest of the public.

Schurman: Hopefully, organizers will begin to build-in contingency plans. Of course, the virus has totally caught everyone totally unprepared and some of the top government officials are not without blame but in fairness even if they had listened to the warnings that came as early as 2005 this is a BIG ONE. I worked in Arizona for a while and sat on an organizing committee for a huge Junior Golf Tournament to be held on Boxing Day and the next day. In one of the meetings, I asked, “What do we do if it rains?” Everyone just looked at me as though I was nuts because it never rains in the desert. Sure enough, on Day 1 we got 4″ of rain and on Day 2 severe lightening and 50 mph wind. After a lot of infighting and bickering, they played 9 holes on the 28th.

Kaplan: I’m starting to think there’s not going to be a season and I’ve never wanted to be more wrong in my entire life. I’m not sure this will be as much a learning experience for the tour as an all-out effort to make back as much as possible of the revenue that it will lose out on this year. But if the tour does take away anything at all from this, I really hope it will be how serious pandemics actually are and how going forward, certain protocols must be implemented to shut things down quicker in the event of another outbreak.

Quinn: Everyone on the planet has learned something from this already. I don’t think we’re going back to so-called ‘normal’ in any aspect of our lives. Everything, including all sports, will change and adapt to the new reality. Too early to guess when that will be or what that will look like.

Mumford: If at all possible, it will be critical to play some events this season, maybe a short schedule with at least a couple of majors. It will represent a return to normal. One thing I hope they learn is that the old way isn’t the only way. I’d like to see them try 54-hole events, mixed formats and a drastically shortened season. That latter one may be thrust upon them depending how bad the economic carnage gets. Lots of companies may be re-thinking golf sponsorship in order to keep the doors open. If that leads to a cancellation of the Fall series, nobody here will be lamenting the loss.

There have been many suggestions on how to play golf safely during this time, with a number of key innovations put forward to help. What are the best ideas you’ve seen and will any of them survive when golf returns to normal?

Deeks: To be honest, I haven’t been paying much attention to golf these last few weeks, so I can’t comment on COVID-19 “innovations”.  This is a wild guess, though… I’m wondering if there might be a move to manufacturing more single-player golf carts, to avoid twosomes sitting so close together.  But honestly, per my comment above, I would think that golf is possibly the best and most adaptable sport to play in the midst of a transferable health crisis.

Schurman: This is a very dangerous time for the future of ‘services’. The golf industry has long had a reputation for various facilities differentiating themselves from each other through the provision of services that add to the golf experience. GMs work to present their facilities in the best ‘light’. Golf Professionals try to ensure every customer is greeted amicably and is well ‘taken care of’. Superintendents have their role, which is to produce the best playing conditions possible. People who are playing in these times of duress have found they don’t need anything more than someone to gas the carts, wipe the steering wheel with disinfectant and keep the scorecard box full. As long as the washrooms are open and clean, they don’t need anything else. On the course, they can live with greens cut every other day, fairways every four days and holes changed once a week. Sure, they might like a return to the excessive, lavish, expensive days of yore but there could be a lot of questions about how necessary it all is.

Kaplan: The only thing I’ve actually seen is a course in L.A. (I think) that raises its cups up a few inches above the hole. The idea was that golfers only had to hit the cup with their balls instead of sinking their putts, resulting in no hands reaching into the cup and spreading COVID-19. As someone who has burned a lot of edges and suffered more than his fair share of lip outs, I’ve got to admit that the idea intrigues me. But there’s no way in hell it stays!

Quinn: My favourite is: Don’t sit in a cart with your playing partner. Ergo: walk!

Mumford: There’s a round collar-like device that fits on the flagstick and prevents your ball from falling to the bottom of the cup. Right now the device is intended to stop transmission of the virus but may have the inadvertent benefit of saving the edges of the cup as well. That’s something that superintendents may want to keep as more players transition to putting with the flagstick in.

The Round Table
The Round Table is a panel of golf writers, PGA members and industry experts.

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