When the USGA and R&A released their key findings from the Distance Insights project on Feb. 4, I never imagined that just two months later I would be placing stakes six feet apart on the edge of all teeing grounds at our first hole as a visual reference assisting players to maintain a safe social distance.
I had heard of COVID-19 prior to the Golf Industry Show. I remember it was in the news, but mostly it was in China. As one of 12,000 attendees who spent time exploring the 500 exhibits spread over 450,000 square feet in the Orange County Convention Center, I washed my hands frequently to prevent catching a cold.
On March 11, my wife and I watched as the President addressed the nation in response to the World Health Organization’s declaration of COVID-19 becoming a pandemic. We have faced West Nile Virus, SARS, bird flu, swine flu, Ebola and Zika over the last two decades, and now this. I never experienced serious fear during those other outbreaks. But this has been different, especially in the way the entire world reacted.
I have never witnessed anything like what is happening around us. A few days later, I addressed my team and said we would take new measures to observe the CDC’s guidelines on social distancing. Only one person per utility vehicle. Enhanced sanitation and disinfecting of steering wheels, door handles, hand tools, etc. would occur daily. By the next morning, we took steps to limit the number of people in our employee meeting room to comply with even newer guidelines announced the evening before.
Daily announcements from the Governor’s office coincided with our changes. First, it was the closure of all restaurants and bars, which immediately impacted our food and beverage operation. A week later it was the closure of gyms, health clubs, yoga studios and other exercise facilities, leaving golf as the last holdout for recreational and physical activity, other than walking or hiking. I have played a few rounds since the March 11 address.
As the days slowly pass, I’m learning about the incredible behind-the-scenes effort to make the case for golf. A coalition of associations are working around the clock to plea with lawmakers that golf has a purpose and golfers can participate safely within the CDC’s guidelines. Club managers, PGA professionals, superintendents, owners and state lobbyists are touting golf’s economic impact and recreational benefits in the effort to keep courses open.
On March 26, Mecklenburg County in North Carolina, where I reside and work, issued a stay-at-home order. Playing golf was listed as an approved outdoor activity because of the coalition’s effort. Four days later, the Governor issued a statewide stay-at-home order. He also included golf as an approved outdoor activity.
I wrestled up the courage to update my blog on March 31. I had been reluctant to do so because of the rapidly changing nature of the COVID-19 situation and I didn’t want to recite something that became inaccurate or obsolete in less than 24 hours. I told my membership about the steps we had taken, both within the facility to keep ourselves healthy and safe, and on the golf course to provide them an environment to play golf as safely possible – no carts, bunker rakes, coolers or sand divot bottles, and cups turned upside down to prevent putts from falling below the surface. Golf looks different, but the course does look good with less clutter.
Golf has been around for centuries and will survive this pandemic. I have believed golf has the potential to be a beacon of hope. I know my inbox was flooded with thank-you messages following the blog post.
But I know there are others who feel differently. Why should folks continue to have the luxury to play golf when everyone else is sacrificing? I know some golf-lovers won’t play during the shutdowns out of guilt. Others are happy to tee it up each day.
I don’t know whether playing is right or wrong. The health services director of Sacramento County, California, recently visited a busy golf course and declared what he witnessed as safe. But the director of the adjoining county health department said, “The question should not be whether something can be done with social distancing, but rather must something be done?”
All I can do is what is permitted in North Carolina. Our team is happy to continue serving members and we hope to keep providing folks an important outlet in the safest manner possible.
Stay safe, everyone!