Golf in the Time of Corona

March 28, 2020

After we finished our overly long coverage of the 2020 PGA Merchandise Show, I planned to return to our usual reviews, news and blog posts the next week. Instead, I was utterly burned out. By the time I started to get the motivation to do some TGF work, a worldwide pandemic was breaking out, which meant a few things for me: I was suddenly swamped at my full-time job;1 I was preoccupied at home with battening down the hatches to ride out whatever quarantine we might have; and lastly, a mild bout of depression set in. None of those are very conducive to creating an environment where one feels motivated to sit down and write.

The one saving grace that kicked me back into gear was my weekly round of golf, which brings us to today’s topic.

Golf as an Essential Activity

I had been mulling over what blog post to write this week, and while I’m sure we’re all tired of hearing about COVID-19, it almost seemed like ignoring it would have been the wrong thing to do. So, when my dad texted me the other day with the idea for a blog post title, it solidified in my mind what I wanted to write. A play on the 1985 book titled Love in the Time of Cholera,2 Golf in the Time of Corona is a topic that some might find frivolous, but I assure you it is anything but.

Before continuing, I would like to mention that I realize golf is not essential in the literal sense and should be considered a luxury. However, this is how governing bodies are defining things — essential or non-essential. Maybe there should be a separate category called “non-essential businesses that are still ok to operate” but that’s a little wordy. Anyway, I digress.

With the varying levels of responses from different governing bodies concerning this pandemic, golf courses are not considered essential everywhere. From the state level down to the county level, many courses have been forced to close because of shelter-in-place orders. While a large number of courses are still open because whatever county/city/state they are in haven’t ordered non-essential businesses to close, some places that DO have shelter-in-place orders have actually listed golf courses as essential businesses. Arizona governor Doug Ducey’s office listed golf courses as an essential operation or business, stating:

Outdoor recreation activities: any outdoor recreation area, park, site or trail that provides opportunities for outdoor recreation with social distancing such as walking, hiking and biking. This includes golf courses if restrictions on food and beverage service under Executive Order 2020-09 are followed.

Mecklenburg County, which surrounds Charlotte, North Carolina, listed activities and businesses that are considered essential as:

Activities that are considered essential.

  • For health and safety
  • To get necessary supplies and services
  • For outdoor activities (walking, hiking, golfing, running, cycling, using greenways)
  • For work for essential businesses/operations
  • To take care of others

I’m sure many of you are saying “Of course they’re essential!” but let’s dive into why they could be considered essential.3

  • Economic impact: Many service-industry workers are feeling the immediate and stinging reality of their livelihood being taken away. From the mom-and-pop restaurant around the corner to the juggernauts of the industry like Hilton, these companies are seeing an unprecedented drop in customers, forcing them to lay off or cut hours of their employees. While many golf courses have been forced to suspend or reduce their food and beverage service, there are still many employees that rely on the course staying open to keep their jobs. Also, many golf courses are already operating on a shoestring budget, and closing down for an extended amount of time could mean the shuttering of that course entirely. So once we get back to business as usual, all those jobs would cease to exist.
  • Golf is an activity that is ideal for social distancing. If you eliminate riding in a cart with another player, and with some modifications to the course that I’ll discuss later, there is no common item that everybody is touching. So, there isn’t a single reason you would ever need to come within six feet of another player. It is also played outdoors with a golfer’s own equipment. Being outdoors means you’re not sharing the same air in an enclosed environment like a gym, and having personal equipment means you aren’t all touching the same item like you would with a sport such as basketball. Golf is the perfect social distancing sport.
  • Exercise: With shelter-in-place orders, many people are just sitting on their couch, binging Netflix and eating junk food out of boredom. While it could be true that this may be a regular activity anyway, getting outside and exercising is essential. As Mecklenburg County stated, running, biking and golf are all fantastic ways to get outdoors and get some much needed physical activity.
  • Mental health: Specifically in my case, as I’m sure with many others, getting outside in the sunshine and playing the game I love improved my mental state so much. Golf is important to bring a sense of normality to what is otherwise a very strange and somewhat frightening time. You might not have thought about it before, but the little things like not going to the grocery store as often, sitting down in a restaurant, or walking around the golf store checking out the latest equipment those are all routine things that are no longer readily available. Golfing was a much-needed respite for me, and it felt great.

What Courses are Doing

For the courses that can stay open, what steps are they taking to reduce the spread of the virus? Whether it’s because of government mandates or just out of sheer precaution, all the courses I’ve checked on have shut down their attached restaurants/bars or have moved to take-out only. Courses have mostly closed their clubhouses. On the course, water coolers, ball washers and bunker rakes have all been removed. Courses have ruled that all flagsticks are to be left in the hole. Many have added pieces of pool noodles to the bottom of the flag or flipped the cup upside down, so you don’t have to reach in the hole to grab your ball. Some courses have implemented a single-rider per cart rule, while others have entirely done away with carts and are walking only. With these changes, as long as you don’t congregate closely on the tee-box and forgo the 18th-green handshake, you can still play golf and almost wholly mitigate the spread of any sort of virus or germ.

Even the USGA has come up with special rulings and clarifications, including how to deal with flagsticks, bunkers that might not be raked, scoring and holing out with the modifications courses have done to the hole.

This is Not Without Controversy

I realize a lot of people, maybe even some golfers, would say that claiming golf is essential is silly and the last thing we should be worrying about now. In regards to the Arizona governor’s statement, some officials spoke out specifically against golf courses being listed as essential. Even I can play devil’s advocate and disagree with my above comments. I realize that some courses staying open means workers are coming in when they might be better suited to staying safe at home. I also recognize that despite the suggestions and rules that are in place, players might scoff at them and continue, as usual, unknowingly spreading the virus. We certainly saw spring breakers ignoring any semblance of social distancing forcing officials to close beaches, and logic says that there will be golfers overlooking social distancing as well.

I would love to hear your thoughts and opinions on the topic, so make sure to leave a comment below.

Golf has persisted throughout some strange times, maybe most notably during the bombing in Britain during World War II. There were even special rule modifications for that as well:

Photo from the USGA’s site.

Thankfully what we’re dealing with isn’t nearly as abominable and horrifying as war, though the incredible hardships endured and loss of life right now is undoubtedly a horror. Every day seems to have a new set of conditions and rules. A few days from now things might look much more dire and this whole discussion could sound utterly ridiculous. As such, I might disavow everything I’ve just said if circumstances dictate. For now, though, I’m incredibly thankful that I am in good health, but I’m also grateful for golf.

Golfing is normal. During these times, we need all the normal safe planning will allow.

Be safe out there my friends.