News & Opinion

An island of calm amid a pandemic

Golf offers a welcome respite from the coronavirus crisis that has rocked our world

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – I played golf with a good friend on Friday afternoon because I didn’t think there was any good reason to cancel. Although that morning, the Players Championship had been canceled and Augusta National announced that the Masters was being postponed.

Officials didn’t say the Masters was canceled, which meant that it might be played one day in 2020. It was the one sliver of hope that maybe there would be an end to this coronavirus crisis that was rocking my corner of the world that has golf in it and clobbering the rest of humanity.

All of that empty space, just waiting for golfers to use it, could help us get back on course in more ways than one.

My friend and I were sent off the first tee at 12:30 p.m., with a group in front of us and a couple of groups teeing off after us but not much of anyone else. Only one guy on the range. No one going off the 10th tee, just across the way.

Normally, on a Friday afternoon in March, with temperatures in the 70s – a welcome break from a chilly, wet winter – the place would be packed. But we played in three hours, barely saw the group in front and never laid eyes on the foursome behind. It was as if we had the course to ourselves.

Normally, I would have come home and watched golf on TV, but there was none being played. The PGA Tour has been canceled through the Masters. Nor was there any college basketball or baseball spring training on TV. The NBA and NHL had been interrupted.

The only thing being broadcast was coronavirus coverage. Though I’m a lifelong news junkie, I can’t sit and consume three hours of that, the same way I could watch that much of the Players.

It was as if the world had been canceled, all in a matter of hours. Schools and churches closed. Many businesses encouraged their employees to work from home, if possible. Grocery stores were overrun.

Things were eerie and empty. There was no way to get your arms around the events of the day. People didn’t seem to know what to do or how to react. Normally in my neighborhood, a steady parade of dog-walkers and parents with strollers pass by my front window. Now, you can count the walkers on one hand all day.

On Saturday, I decided to drive out to Charles L. Sifford Golf Course, a nine-hole public facility in the shadow of uptown Charlotte, to work for an hour or so on my woeful short game. Mostly, however, I wanted to get out of the house, because I had been working there all day, with the TV having gone dark.

At 4:30 in the afternoon, the parking lot was half full and there were six carts lined up waiting at the first tee. About half a dozen players were on the range, and a couple of guys joined me on the chipping green. Two teenagers putted with an older man, competing for who knows what.

Even for a little while, golf was an island of calm. No one was panicked. The only things people appeared to be worried about were their grip, stopping their slice and making their 6-footers.

On my way home, I passed The Workman’s Friend, an Irish pub a few blocks from where I live. A lot of young people live in my neighborhood, and most of them were celebrating early for St. Patrick’s Day. Part of the bar is open air, and the revelers were paying no attention to social distancing, standing shoulder to shoulder, enjoying green beer or beer of any other color. Clearly, there was no sign of worry from this demographic.

I live about four blocks from my local grocer, and I dropped in Sunday afternoon to see if I could pick up a couple of things. Shoppers wandered around zombie-like, bewildered at empty shelves that once had been full of bread, toilet paper and other essentials.

My apartment was strangely silent without the Players Championship unfolding. I limited myself to 30 minutes of news every few hours. I’d wait until the top of the hour, turn on the TV and see if there might be something new I needed to know about.

NBC broadcast last year’s Players on the weekend. Maybe no one at the network could figure out anything better. Maybe someone thought it would give golf fans a feeling of normalcy somehow.

But I can’t imagine who would have watched. Because our whole world is far from normal. Not now. Maybe not ever.

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