On Golf in the Time of COVID
With Spring springing all around us, the call of the course gets louder. Those green fairways, budding trees and blooming flowers encapsulate what we’ve waited all winter for.
But this year is different, as coronavirus dominates our thoughts and activities. With the postponement of the 2020 Masters and the PGA’s sweeping event cancellations, the urgency of the crisis is hitting home for golf fans across the world.
However, country clubs, municipals and other local courses are taking actions to keep operating. From “bumper holes” to hands-free transactions, golf courses are stepping up to protect patrons and keep hard-working staff employed. While things might certainly change in the future, for now, golf seems to be an appropriate social distancing activity in this time of COVID.
Can I Play Golf During a Pandemic?
With gyms closing and exercise classes being cancelled, the four-plus miles of walking provided by 18 holes of golf looks like a mighty fine respite from increasingly-cramped shelter in spaces. Running is great for endurance, hiking is good to stay fit, but there’s something special about chasing that little white ball in the early days of spring. Especially when you can enjoy it with other humans.
Thankfully, golf seems like the perfect sport to socialize while observing social distancing guidelines. According to Dr. Kelly Cawcutt, associate director of infection control and hospital epidemiology and Nebraska biocontainment unit member at the University of Nebraska Medical Center in Omaha,
“Being in a wide-open, outdoor space is the least at-risk scenario […] Precaution is the name of the game. It’s very reasonable to play if you are smart about it and follow the proper guidance.”Golf and the coronavirus: how to play with confidence, according to an expert; Golf.com
These guidelines put forward by the WHO remind players to wash their hands, stay 6 feet away from other people, adapt “alternative” greetings such as a foot or elbow taps, and refrain from touching their face. Now that we have the precautionary measures out of the way, let’s talk about what players can do to respect these guidelines to protect themselves and others during this time.
How to Stay Safe Playing Golf During the Coronavirus
It’s crucial when you’re out there playing not to put yourself, and your playing partners (in the most macro sense) at additional risk. We still aren’t sure how long COVID-19 can live on surface elements like flags, ball washers, or rakes (like you ever need them). To stay on the safe side, just don’t touch them at all. And anything you do touch, make sure to sanitize immediately after.
Another way to isolate yourself from unknown germs is to play without a cart. This coincides with our initial point about the great exercise benefits of golf and will help you stay away from something that another person has come into contact with.
Make getting out onto the first tee a completely contact-free experience. Use your golf towel to open doors, bring cash to pay for greens fees, and look for techniques your course is using to minimize person-to-person exposure like cash boxes or self-sign tee sheets.
Putting around the green is a concern, given the potential contact points that arise after you drain the putt. To circumvent hand-to-flag or hand-to-cup contact, courses are cutting their holes shallower (if at all) and using ingenious methods like placing sawed-off swim noodles in the cups to facilitate ball retrieval.
If your current course of play lacks these innovations, just pick a mark on the green and putt to it. A a piece of debris or a beer can will do the trick, and let you keep lip outs off the card for the time being. No word yet on how a “raised” hole-in-one should be scored, so we’ll leave that one up to you! But just to be safe, we suggest you follow the normal protocol for what to do after you make one.
Another tip (for mitigating coronavirus and your handicap) is to refrain from playing balls from the bunkers, and take a drop instead. But if you’re a purist, this just won’t do. So after you thwack it, leave the rake alone and use your foot wedge to smooth the tracks. Many traditionalists say this is what should be done in every circumstance, so chalk it up to the essence of the game.
One of the biggest challenges for long-time golfers will be getting out of the routine of it all. After a few holes, those habits start to come back, and the relaxation trumps the hyper-vigilance of the times. Training yourself not to pull the pin, pick up your playing partners ball, or even give a high five after a great shot will take discipline. But remember, you don’t catch the virus from touching it with your hand, which is why proper hand washing and sanitization is the most important step we can all take to protect ourselves.
Bring something with a disinfectant on it to clean the grips of your clubs, your ball and your glove. Baby wipes are better than nothing (unfortunately, a shot of Titos will not do the trick). Use common sense and follow simple procedures to bring you as close to safety as possible.
Make it Fun
We’ve all had enough talk about safety now. This is the part where you need to get creative and make pandemic golf fun. You might not be able to high five your friends, but you can up the ante on the round by playing for a bottle of hand sanitizer or a package of toilet paper (aka clear and white gold).
This might be one of your few opportunities to get outside, so make a splash with a stupid outfit. A pair of knickers and argyle socks that scream, ”Stay away from me, I’ve been indoors for too long,” or a basketball jersey to show how sad you are that basketball is cancelled. Have your foursome show up dressed as Tiger Woods on Augusta Sunday. People wouldn’t know what hit ‘em.
Or use the round as an opportunity to try out some new tech, be it an electronic swing trainer like this, or a wobbly tempo club. Wide-open courses might mean less pressure to perform, or to hit the perfect shot. If you’re already trained up enough, maybe something like this will help you gauge the course as you play while connecting with friends and other players in your area.
Virtual tournaments might become a big thing in a world filled with people worried about being too close to other people. And the challenge of getting outside your standard foursome and into your community as a whole might be the boost you need to take a few numbers off your handicap.
If all the silliness and potential fun you could have on deserted courses isn’t up your alley, you can always use it as an excuse to take your kids along to get them out of the house. They’re already being homeschooled, so why not make this Friday’s gym period take place on the links?
So golf isn’t dead just because of a virus. It might have taken away our tournaments, sports, and entertainment options, but it can’t take away the feeling of lacing up and getting out on the course. Check your local courses, and call to see if they’ve put any safety measures in place to protect players. Be mindful of others, and practice all the safety tips we’ve shared in this article.
The important thing isn’t how you play or where or with whom, but the love of the game. Golf can be a frustrating mess, and a Spring spent removing a stubborn slice just to turn it into a brand new hook can make your day miserable. But even with all that’s going on, that one nice shot, that break in the clouds, makes us all remember why we love this game so much.
Even in a pandemic.