The coronavirus is a dangerous, global pandemic. The single best (and for most of us, the easiest) thing we can do to help combat it, is to practice social distancing.
Namely, stay home.
Can you play golf, though?
The question isn’t flippant. It’s a real one being debated around the world and most certainly inside the United States.
No, playing golf is not an essential activity such as doctors reporting to hospitals, or grocery stores staying open.
Yet all but the most strict “shelter-in-place” orders allow for some form of recreation. Jogging. Taking the dog for a walk. Riding bikes, whether it is up and down mountains or around the block with the kids.
“Individuals may leave their home or place of residence, and travel as necessary … to engage in outdoor activity, including walking, hiking, running, cycling, or any other recreational activity consistent with remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household,” reads the executive order of Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer.
“So long as you are maintaining a safe social distance of six feet from people who aren’t part of your household, it is OK to go outside for exercise, a walk or fresh air,” reads the one from California Gov. Gavin Newsom.
This is pretty standard language.
Common sense says that while COVID-19 can be a killer, a few weeks or even months of a completely sedentary populace is also a major health risk. So move. Preferably to the level of breaking a sweat.
Just stay away from the other people moving.
Which brings the debate back to golf.
“In most jurisdictions, it is still fine to get out on the golf course and enjoy some fresh air and exercise while maintaining physical distance from other players,” said Yahoo Sports Public Health Contributor Dr. Kathryn Jacobsen, professor of global health epidemiology at George Mason.
The problem? Not all jurisdictions are allowing it. You can play in Ohio. You can’t in Wisconsin. You could play in Illinois, but now you can’t. You can play in California, unless your county restricts it. You can play in Florida, just not the two most populous counties in South Florida. Arizona is a yes. New Mexico is a no. Maryland and Minnesota say no. Michigan and Missouri are trying to figure it out. There is no rhyme nor reason to this. Check your local listings.
All of them should be a yes barring an overriding local danger, concern or travel restriction.
According to some legends, golf was invented by bored shepherds in the Scottish countryside. Small numbers of players. Big spaces. It can be even done alone on courses that sprawl across hundreds of acres.
No one is talking about one of those charity fundraisers with two groups on each hole for a shotgun start and multiple drink carts rolling around.
There should be no carts at all. No caddies, either.
You have to carry your own bag.
On tees and greens (or fairways) you stay at least six feet away from a playing partner.
No raking of bunkers. No rakes at all. Just smooth it out with your foot and deal with whatever lie you get in the sand.
The flag stays in the cup, or, better, the club raises up the cups so balls just bang off the side. It’s not quite PGA regulation, but these are desperate times, not the back-9 at Augusta National.
No postround handshake. No mid-round high-fives. Hand sanitizer when needed. Go home afterward and take your clubs with you — if you are at a club that stores bags.
Is this really any less safe than jogging along a trail with other runners? This is essentially a long stroll through a huge park, with very few other people, except you whack a ball every couple hundred yards.
A good walk (un)spoiled in this case.
The 19th hole should be closed, except for curbside (fairway side?) pickup, like any other restaurant. Same with drinks. All of this seems pretty manageable.
As for the landscapers who care for the course, there is no need for them to be close to one another. Even if rounds aren’t allowed, the Golf Club Superintendents Association of America is lobbying governments to allow workers to continue upkeep on the courses so they are ready when the ban ends. Otherwise it gets overrun (especially in the spring) and the course is useless.
“An average golf course of 150 acres is a living ecosystem requiring continued maintenance,” the GCSAA said in a statement.
Industry groups estimate some 2 million people work in the golf industry, which generates some $84.1 billion annually. While all that business and all those jobs can’t be saved right now, some can. And while the vision for many of golf is elite, private courses designed for the wealthy, most are run by municipalities or operate as small businesses. They are in almost every community in America.
It’s a way to keep some people employed. Safely. While serving the public that needs something to do. Safely.
The perception is that anyone participating in golf — a sport — is not doing their part in the greater sacrifice of flattening the curve. That’s just perception, though.
People need something to get themselves moving, to provide a mental break from the significant health, family and economic stress being heaped upon them. There is nothing selfish about taking care of yourself if it has no adverse effect on another person.
Golf done right, shouldn’t. So, if at all possible, open up the courses.
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