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21 March 2020 01:31

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  • Campbell said he's recommended golf courses make social distancing a priority, especially in pro shops and clubhouses.

Campbell said he's recommended golf courses make social distancing a priority, especially in pro shops and clubhouses.

COVID-19 won't stop some N.S. golf courses from opening

Those are about all you've got unless you're lucky enough to have some access to what might be the model of social distancing sports: golf. We're not talking about country club golf, which revolves around fancy clubhouses with monthly minimums on food and beverage. The most famous of them all, Augusta National, has not only postponed the famed Masters Tournament, which was scheduled to begin next month, it closed play to its green-jacketed members, according to Golf Digest, out of concern for the health of its employees. And we're not talking about indoor golf, played only by the lucky few folks with simulators. Maybe you saw the cute social media post of Steph Curry, the Golden State Warriors great and scratch player, making the best of his home quarantine by swinging some clubs in the family's home golf bay with his one-year-old son Canon.

We're talking about pandemic golf — the kind that's being played by diehards desperate to get out of the house while respecting the confines of infection control etiquette. All that said, a golf game, under the right conditions, ought to be as safe as a solitary walk. "People are calling us to make sure we're open, saying, 'This is the last place I have to go,' like it's a last-bastion type of thing," a pro shop staffer at a public course in New York City told the New York Post. But in places where the weather makes golf more than possible, open golf courses aren't a given. Hundreds of courses have closed in the U.S. Others have kept their courses open while closing clubhouses and restaurants and limiting the number of people allowed in the pro shop at any given moment — a state of affairs that's probably only tenable on a temporary basis given the vital revenue that comes from the food-and-beverage side of such operations.

Despite the Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan ordering people to avoid large groups, several open golf courses remained open Friday as the weather got into the eighties in Baltimore. On Thursday, Baltimore County officials heeded the governor's warnings and closed its golf courses, driving ranges and golf clubs until April 3. "We apologize for any inconvenience but based on current updates and the most recent press conference from Gov. Hogan, we believe doing this is the right thing to do for our employees, customers and our communities," county officials said in a statement. However, Pine Ridge, a Baltimore city-owned golf course in Baltimore County, remained open Friday. Mount Pleasant golf course also remained open on Friday and some WJZ viewers reported larger crowds.

"We're remaining open at this time due to the outdoor nature of golf while adhering to state mandates. We also believe social distancing is important and key to golfers enjoying our courses," the golf course said in a statement. "Beginning Monday, March 23rd, we will be limiting the number of tee times in an effort to be able to offer a golf cart to all riding golfers so that only one person is utilizing a golf cart during the round." On March 16, the city said it would move to a carry-out model for its food and beverage operations at the city golf courses. "At Pine Ridge and Mount Pleasant, there will only be food and beverage service at the on-course snack shacks on weekends and select weekdays," the golf course said in a statement, "The clubhouse food and beverage operations at Carroll Park, Clifton Park Forest Park will operate only as carry-out operations." While many businesses are having to close because of the COVID-19 pandemic, some golf courses are preparing to open for the season and make way for golfers to safely tune up their backswings. "You certainly don't have to pull out the pin on every hole, you don't have to shake hands," said David Campbell, executive director of the Nova Scotia Golf Association. Campbell said he's recommended golf courses make social distancing a priority, especially in pro shops and clubhouses. Campbell said his office has been fielding calls and emails this week from people wondering if and when courses are opening because "they're getting stir crazy." "I think there is opportunity for golf courses to open to people to get outside and play," Campbell said. Public health officials and politicians have been adamant about the importance of limiting contact and, when appropriate, self-isolating to curb the spread of COVID-19. But Dr. Robert Strang, Nova Scotia's chief medical officer of health, said that doesn't mean staying indoors all the time. "We actually want people to be out and about, cycling, walking," Strang said at a news conference Thursday. Strang said it's important to distinguish between the order for everyone to physically distance themselves from one another by at least two metres, and the order for some individuals to self-isolate. Public health officials across Canada continue to recommend that anyone returning from international travel should self-isolate for 14 days. Golfing might not be the first go-to option that comes to mind during a pandemic, but with isolation measures getting steeper, Okanagan courses are hoping that the isolate-friendly sport can remain an option going into the coming months. While the provincial government has strongly urged events and restaurants of 50 or more people to close, golfing provides a unique option of plenty of personal space, fresh air and plenty of distance. "We're limiting club house access, moving away from using cash, all those steps," said Okanagan Golf Course general manager Dan Matheson. "You realize that golf courses are popular places to be during all this. Tee times will be staggered, certain touch points (golf carts, flags, rakes etc.) are being taken away for the limited opportunity of spread." It's a very dynamic situation and hopefully golf will continue to be a safe sport." At the Kelowna Golf and Country Club, general manager David Walker has extended protocols to mitigate the risks of coronavirus spread, including cancelling all events and limiting access to just club members. They enjoy being outside and it's fairly safe and we're doing our part to make sure it stays safe," said Walker. But with constant updates coming from government health officials, it's tough to know where the golf courses will lay in a week's time.