Reed On The Greens: Golf And COVID-19

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

 

Reed on the Greens March 18, 2020
by Jeffrey Reed, Editor, LondonOntarioGolf.com

This is not an article on openings and closings within the London and Southwestern Ontario golf industry. And it’s not an article pointing fingers at anyone.

This is an unprecedented time in our lifetimes. The coronavirus pandemic has changed the world as we’ve known it. It’s a time of fear and uncertainty. Life will never be the same.

But the local golf industry, like any other community right now, can only hope and pray for better times ahead. When that will happen, we’re unsure.

In fact, during the time I took to write this piece – the most important story I’ve written during my 40-plus years as a golf journalist – news broke by the minute. World news included the shutdown of all major auto manufacturers, and the closing of the Canadian-U.S. border to non-essential traffic and visitors. Prime Minister Trudeau announced an $82-billion aid program to assist Canadians during and after the COVID-19 pandemic. And the list of coronavirus infected and related deaths continued to rise.

Photo: Jeffrey Reed/LondonOntarioGolf.com.

Golf Town announced it closed its doors until March 31, and will continue to assess the situation – as everyone is by the minute. The PGA Tour and its affiliated tours again truncated their seasons. Annual meetings, information sessions, and yes, many golf courses, have announced their events and doors have been shut tight.

But as I hit the keys to this sentence, golf goes on. It reminds me of the line spoken by James Earl Jones’ character, Terence Mann, in the movie, Field Of Dreams: “The one constant through all the years, Ray, has been baseball. America is ruled by it like an army of steam rollers. It’s been erased like a blackboard, rebuilt, and raised again. But baseball has marked the time.”

The same can be said about golf, especially here in the London area where two-thirds of our golfers are avid golfers, as opposed to casual participants. It’s a major contributor to the local economy, and for a century has helped define what London is all about. From PGA Tour and LPGA Tour tournaments, to the millions of dollars raised by charity golf events, golf is a huge part of local life.

Golf has survived two World Wars, the Great Depression and a myriad of other detriments to growth. But COVID-19 has teed up a new enemy which we are all trying to assess and battle to the best of our ability. Like a round of golf, we are unsure about the outcome, but we’re trying our best and hoping for the best, too. It’s all we can do.

Over the past few days, LondonOntarioGolf.com has connected with scores of local public, semi-private and private golf clubs. Everyone commented with deep trepidation yet applauded the London golf community for its optimism. At this writing, some clubs, including East Park Golf in London, Pine Knot Golf and Country Club in Dorchester, Caradoc Sands Golf Club in Strathroy and FireRock Golf Club in Komoka are open for golf, all promising a strict regimen of sanitation and with no clubhouse dine-in food services.

And, of course, every club – whether open or closed – continues to constantly re-assess how to deal with the COVID-19 pandemic. The best thing to do is to call your golf course and monitor their social media postings to see whether or not they are open. That will change daily.

East Park general manager Alon Shatil spoke passionately about the benefits of being outdoors, and how families are coming together at this time of need. At the same time, golf associations and governing bodies are weighing in on how we should all deal with the new reality.

At its Facebook page today, Pine Knot published its “social distancing golf rules,” which include: six-foot gimmes; leave flags in; no bunker rakes – lift, smooth and place; don’t touch other players’ golf balls; and have fun.

“Tap payment is available and preferred. Carts are sanitized after use. If you are not feeling well, please stay home. There will be lots of great golf days ahead. Restaurant is closed for dine in service but you can order takeout food and drinks and have it delivered right to you on the course if you have one of our new deluxe electric GPS carts. Or, you can call direct to the pub or pro shop. Stay healthy everyone,” Pine Knot stated.

In this Golf Magazine article, Golf Courses Taking Smart (And Creative) Measures To Combat The Coronavirus, by James Colgan, Dr. Kelly Cawcutt – a golfer – offered his words of wisdom. Dr. Cawcutt is associate director of infection control and hospital epidemiology, and Nebraska biocontainment unit member at the University of Nebraska Medical Center.

“Being in a wide-open, outdoor space is the least at-risk scenario. Precaution is the name of the game. It’s very reasonable to play if you are smart about it and follow the proper guidance,” he told Golf Magazine. Read his advice here; it includes how to handle your golf clubs, balls and gloves; how to handle the golf cart; how to handle your cell phone during your round.

In this Golf Digest article by Mike Stachura, Can You Play Golf Amid Coronavirus Concerns? With Proper Precautions, Yes, another leading infectious disease expert said the game can still be played and enjoyed but with some modifications.

Last golf season, my regular playing partners and I – all of us germaphobes to various degrees – agreed to fist pumps instead of handshakes after our round. Today, it’s safer to offer a Namaste bow.

In the neighbouring State of Michigan, the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM) announced that its legal counsel had suggested the state’s 650 golf clubs remain closed. But soon afterwards, the Michigan Golf Alliance received confirmation from Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s office that golf courses can remain open for the sole purpose of golf, but that indoor restaurant/bar facilities must close for the designated period through March 30.

The Michigan Golf Alliance is made up of the Michigan Golf Course Association, GAM, Michigan PGA, Michigan Golf Course Superintendents’ Association, and the Greater Michigan Chapter, CMAA.

Canadian golf industry leaders continue to re-assess operations and recommendations. Golf Canada was one of the first Canadian industry leaders to offer a statement during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“We are monitoring Health Canada, the World Health Organization and other expert governmental/regional health experts to follow developments and receive guidance,” read Golf Canada’s statement on March 13. “We are also consulting with key partners including the PGA TOUR, LPGA Tour, Canadian Olympic Committee and other national/international sport and entertainment properties to make informed and responsible decisions.”

You can read Golf Ontario’s statement here, PGA of Canada’s and PGA of Ontario’s statement here, Canadian Golf Superintendents Association’s statement and recommendations here, and Canadian Society of Club Managers’ statement and resources here.

On a personal note, like you, golf is an important and instrumental part of my life. It’s a big part of my business operations, my social life and my overall well-being. LondonOntarioGolf.com cancelled our annual Heart Award banquet, this year to honour City of London municipal golf director, Steve Bennett.

As a disabled person, golf saved my life, giving me a competitive outlet and allowing me to maximize my health. I rely heavily on winter workouts prior to the season, and for the most part those are gone with pandemic restrictions and closures. And how the 2020 local golf season will evolve is still a big question mark.

In the meantime, I’m working out at my home gym, going for long walks in the woods and maintaining our rural property as I practice social distancing.

But golf is a social game, and it’s in our blood. We’re all suffering. But we’re in it together as we fight a much bigger foe than bogey golf.

In 2017, I wrote this piece on local golf, Best 18 Things About London, Area Golf. No. 1 on that list was you, the golfer.

We don’t know what courses will remain open, if at all. We can only hope for the best.

In the meantime, keep fit, practice your swing indoors if you have the room, putt on your rec room carpet, watch The Golf Channel, binge golf videos – next up for me is the highlight DVD from Mike Weir’s 2003 Masters Tournament win, and the movie, Bobby Jones: Stroke of Genius.

And most of all, love your family and keep in touch with your golf buddies.

Help ease their pain. Go the distance.

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Jeffrey Reed is a three-time writing award winner from the Golf Journalists Association of Canada, and a print, broadcast and new media golf journalist since 1980. His third book, The Canadian Seniors’ Golf Association, Celebrating 100 Years of Seniors Golf 1918-2018, was published in 2018. Reach him at jeff@londonontariogolf.com.

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About jeffreyreed

A leading Canadian communications professional. Corporate office www.JeffreyReedReporting.com established 1989.