Susan Shapcott: This golf instructor doesn't want courses to reopen during the coronavirus crisis
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Susan Shapcott: This golf instructor doesn't want courses to reopen during the coronavirus crisis

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Susan Shapcott

Susan Shapcott 

This is a very challenging time to be a golf instructor. None of my business plans involved a contingency for golf in the time of the novel coronavirus.

But here we are. As a result, the ongoing debate in my online community of colleagues and clients over the last few days has been whether golf courses should be allowed to open for play.

The arguments for play seem compelling. Why not allow golfers to head on to the golf course?

Golf will allow people to exercise, get some fresh air, give them a place to let off steam, and provide distraction from the news. We can walk outside, it is argued, so why not play golf?

The golf industry is weighing in on this side of the argument, too. Regional PGA organizations are lobbying governors to consider golf as an essential business. In doing so, they say, citizens would benefit, and people who work in the golf industry would remain employed. To bolster their argument, proponents of opening golf courses have cited the staggering year-on-year increase of rounds played in March. As the country was gradually brought to its knees by the pandemic, people turned to the golf course.

Though it is against my personal financial interests, I sit on the other side of the debate. I do not agree that golf courses should open. Let’s take a step back and look at the big picture. The reason for social distance measures is to slow the spread of COVID-19. In doing so we relieve stress on our health care system and workers. Doing this will save lives.

Virus Outbreak Hitting the Links

A mask-wearing golfer who declined to give his name grabs his golf bag before hitting the links at a golf club March 20. Gov. Tony Evers last week ordered all nonessential businesses to close, including golf courses. 

If golf courses open, the trends of increased play will swamp the courses with more players than normal (many of whom fit the criteria of vulnerable members of our communities). This means more people on the roads — itself an unnecessary risk. When players arrive at the course, they will encounter hectic parking lots, full driving ranges, busy putting greens, and inevitably a crowd around the first tee.

Despite the golf rules being tweaked to minimize risk of spreading the virus — no rakes, walking only, and spaced out tee-times — we are relying on large numbers of people to follow the social distancing rules to keep themselves and others safe. Let’s be honest, we can’t even get golfers to replace their divots, rake the bunkers, or repair their ball marks at the best of times. Now we are charging them with the responsibility of curtailing the pandemic? Just so they can play a few holes of golf?

The idealistic picture of golf in the time of this coronavirus is of a quiet and relaxing escape from the stress we now wake up to every morning. The reality would be very different if golf courses stay open. Golf courses would become home to hordes of players unaccustomed to new social norms and the game’s new rules.

This is too much of a risk. It is time for golf and golfers to recognize we are all in the fight to overcome COVID-19 together, and that means making sacrifices — just for a while. The sooner we get the spread of the coronavirus under control, the sooner we can get back to playing the game we love.

Let’s be honest, we can’t even get golfers to replace their divots, rake the bunkers, or repair their ball marks at the best of times. Now we are charging them with the responsibility of curtailing the pandemic? Just so they can play a few holes of golf?

Shapcott is owner of Change Golf Instruction and teaches golf at Madison courses.

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