News & Opinion

Golf has a role to play in this national crisis

Golf-generic-by-Markus-Spiske-on-Unsplash.jpg

The game can ‘thread the needle’ effectively on Americans’ need to socially distance themselves while maintaining healthy habits, the head of the National Golf Course Owners Association contends

This is an unprecedented time in modern history, and we have many voices in our heads because of the coronavirus pandemic. Many medical experts are advising everyone simply to stay home, while others are saying responsible social-distancing practices are safe enough to limit disease transmission. Our elected and appointed leaders are concerned for the health and safety of our people, and yet they also understand how a recession – or worse, a depression – could spark even more drastic consequences on the populace. The cognitive dissonance is cutting sharply and deeply, and golf can seem to be trivial with all of that as our backdrop.

But if there ever were an industry that offers an experience which can thread the needle on these conflicting messages, it is golf. Amidst the confusion, course owners and operators have been looking to the National Golf Course Owners Association for guidance. For courses legally permitted to remain open – well more than half – and which have chosen to stay open, the NGCOA has been advising compliance with all recommended directives from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. We also took the extra step to provide best-of-breed operational practices to further protect employees and customers. We created the “Park and Play” program, which provides course operators with a checklist to follow. The program allows any golfer to drive into the parking lot, get to the first tee and around the course, and return to the parking lot for a safe, socially-distant golfing experience. We ran our checklist by, and received approval from, physicians with the Infectious Diseases Society of America.

Greater than the challenge of readying our golf courses for socially-distant, safe play is monitoring golfers who, desperately wanting the outdoor experience by themselves or with others, are navigating the new behaviors required of all of us. We are doing our best to control the environment and behaviors, just like any restaurant that is allowed to remain open to serve food on a take-out-only basis.

Relatively speaking, golf courses are set up very well to accommodate the new norms, and thousands of courses have adjusted the physical plant of their facilities. And, as social as the game can be, it can be played in a micro-isolationist way: a golfer doesn’t have to touch anybody or anyone else’s equipment. I’m sure readers have seen clever ways in which course superintendents and golf professionals are modifying the experience to minimize or eliminate the touching of surfaces and to mitigate proximity among people.

The key to success will be golfing companions staying at least 6 feet apart from one another at all times, which might seem to be difficult on the greens and tee boxes. But it can be done easily with mindful commitment. Ensure that golf cars are properly sanitized (bring your own disinfectant wipes for belt-and-suspender precaution), and do not touch bunker rakes, sand containers for divots, ball washers or any surface of any kind. This article links to a list of best practices promoted by the NGCOA and other allied associations, including how the Rules of Golf are being adjusted.

Until this disease subsides, we won’t know which of our emails, letters, resources or tweets will have aged well or not. While we can point to history and say golf has survived depressions and wars, never before have we seen this kind of disruption. There has been no handbook for business owners on how to try to keep a business alive and staff employed with such a large, unknown threat facing us. Likewise, there has been no handbook for residents on how to navigate orders to stay at home, and yet also be officially encouraged still to get outside, exercise and take long walks in the park.

As long as public parks can remain open, there is a case for golf courses to remain open, as well. After all, a golf course is like a 150-acre park, except that we admit no more than four people at a time, every 10 minutes.

Sign up to receive the Morning Read newsletter, along with Where To Golf Next and The Equipment Insider.