This past Saturday, I played my first COVID-19 era round of golf. I wasn’t really sure what to expect. The exhaustive list of measures put in place to keep golf courses safe and allowed to operate made me wonder if it would feel like a mere shell of the game I fell in love with as a kid.
As I arrived, there was a staff member at the front entrance to remind me of the new rules in place and how to navigate them. Another in the parking lot to make sure there were no missteps. Hand sanitizer was sitting on a table near a sign that read “sanitized pushcarts.” There was no clubhouse or pro shop access. Orange pylons were blocking off every second stall at the driving range. Only four people were allowed on the practice green at any given time. There were no customary handshakes with my playing partners.
You get the idea.
It was all somewhat unusual. Then something happened. I teed off and started playing golf. Sure, there was a doohickey rigged up to pop the ball out of the hole with your putter, but the golf — that felt unusually normal. Once I was over the ball, none of the other things mattered. I was playing golf. The game I know and love. I didn’t miss rakes in the bunkers or ball washers on every tee box. I was just excited to hit golf shots.
The first thing I noticed was how natural it was to “social distance” on a golf course. It never felt awkward or forced to make it happen. The game naturally lends itself to it.
The other thing I noticed was a more profound sense of gratitude for the opportunity to play golf from people I chatted with. Despite clubhouses being closed, food and bar services suspended, rakes and ball washers being removed from the golf course, and a myriad of other things that may feel different or weird, the tee sheets have been jam-packed. A useful reminder of why people show up and pay money to be there. To play golf.
Whether you tie your golf shoes in the locker room or in the parking lot doesn’t change the way it feels to stand over a three-foot slider. Whether you washed your ball with a ball washer or your own spit doesn’t make a birdie any less thrilling. And just because you can’t fist bump with your buddy or stay for lunch after your round, for the time being, doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy their company while strolling down the fairway together, two meters apart.
The extra amenities at a golf course, such as food and beverage, can undoubtedly add to the overall experience, and they help make golf a more viable business. We will slowly get them back, and that is great. Still, this modified version of the golf experience is an essential reminder for both golfers and golf course operators that golf should always be centre stage.
Golf is what we love. It’s what brings us together, challenges our mind and body, and enriches our souls. It would take a lot more than a virus to ever fundamentally change that.
Stay safe and play well.