I have a goal to be a scratch golfer by the time I’m 50. Right now, I’m about a nine handicap.
From there, the next goal is to participate in at least one professional tournament in the Champions Tour – as a player. You must be 50 to do that.
I enjoy practicing the game of golf as much as playing. It’s a passion I have.
That’s why I’m as disappointed as the thousands of other Alberta golfers that golf courses are closed during the coronavirus pandemic.
I want the courses to open; I’m ready for my 9 a.m. Sunday on the driving range and chipping green at my home course of D’Arcy Ranch. I want to tee it up and play tournament golf on the Alberta Golf Tour (another Alberta small business that could be devastated by golf’s shutdown.)
Even with the cabin fever building, the frustration over home schooling and the need to release, I’m not a golfer that wants to hit the course at the expense of either getting or spreading COVID-19.
Despite the growing petition numbers, (my mom sent it to me), I’m not signing it.
Before I tell you why, there’s something I’d like to clear up: Golf is not an elitist sport. Yes, you need to get clubs (my previous set lasted me 15 years), and you must pay green fees, but it is no less accessible than say… downhill skiing. Equipment cost, drive time, lift ticket – we don’t do that because it’s a $750 day for the family.
(Also, keep in mind, many of you wouldn’t hesitate to drop $100 cozied up to a pub seat for four or five hours, too…)
Further, parents shell out hundreds per month for their kids to play hockey, participate in gymnastics, dance, and more.
With a garage sale set of clubs and $150, my kids could play all season long.
But, I digress.
The golf metaphor
It’s a position I’ve been in before; I hit a high cut into the woods on a par 5. Not thick woods, mind you, but enough to be trouble. I see a window that I can advance the ball about 100 yards. I just need to squeeze it between two large spruce trees and I’m home free.
I’ve also got a chip out to my left, but then it’s still 250 yards to the green. I’ll never get there in one shot.
After calculating all possibilities, I know the chip out is the best shot. My competitive side usually gets the best of me – that selfish side that thinks I’m better than I really am.
Is there a chance I’ll pure a low screamer right through those two, thick-trunked spruce and bounce out to the 150-yard marker? Yes. After calculation, it’s about a 15 per cent success rate. I can live with that.
The chip out is a 95 per cent success rate. I may even be able to nut a three-wood and dribble it up near the green – 250 yards is my max though, and there’s a bit of a wind into my face.
Let’s go with the low screamer. I take a swipe, ever-so-slightly ticking a branch on my backswing, throwing my club off a degree or two. I strike it clean, but that misdirected club face sends the ball right into the trunk of one of the two spruce trees.
The ball careens to the right, deeper into the woods.
Shit. I tap ground to see if I hit an imaginary root. I look up at the branch and shake my head and utter a few more curse words. Everything else’s fault, but my own.
I card an eight, when it should have been a five, maybe a six.
This is the coronavirus.
Golf is not an essential service
As much as I try to tell my wife that golf is as essential to me as a coffee in the morning, beer on a hot summer day (or any day), and something else… like breathing – it’s not.
Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw has articulated as much. No more essential than most other Alberta businesses.
Sure, there’s roughly 43,000 regular golfers in the province (national golf report, 2014, quoted in a 2017 article) and tens-of-thousands more weekend warriors hacking their way around 18 holes during the summer month. It reportedly generates nearly $3 billion annually for the Alberta economy, too.
I have no doubt. I contribute to that economy.
There are frequent touch points that would have to be cleared up: pins, carts, rakes, those “can you grab my putter” moments. There’s the food and beverage carts, the bathrooms, outhouses, the hand shaking before and after the round. There’s driving range spacing, green fee payments and high fives after a chip-in birdie.
Most of this is going to have to be addressed even IF golf courses open.
But where we are right now, with a coronavirus peak expected sometime around mid-May, it doesn’t make any sense to rush it.
There are always those people who defy the rules. The people who drive the carts into environmental areas or skid stop the tires. The people who talk in your backswing, use the blade of their putter to pull the ball out of the hole, ripping up the edge and players that take their sweet time over their million-dollar PGA putt.
Oh, don’t forget the players who should be playing from the forward tees, but think their game deserves to start from two boxes back.
That’s why we can’t open them.
I want to sign the petition
Yes, I want to join the 36,000+ others that are pushing for golf courses to have special opening rights over other businesses. My game demands it.
I know that golf courses across Alberta are hurting; heck they’ve been hurting for the past five years with the economy in the tank. Shorter seasons with snow in May and September. Fewer tournaments with an oil industry a shell of its former self.
I just can’t.
The biggest driver behind this is our desire to get outside and do something. These damn isolation rules are driving most of us mad. Golf seems like an easy way to do it; get in a good walk, 100-ish trunk rotations and maybe a social beer with others – all while standing six-feet away from each other.
(I don’t want to get into how many six footers I see missed…)
It’s for this reason though, that I don’t want them to open. I want this to end sooner rather than later. I want to get to what the new normal is right away.
One false move, one bad decision along the way could set us back and keep us cooped up until Christmas. Remember – a large percentage of golfers are seniors, too. That’s a problem with cataclysmic physical, mental and economic outcomes.
It’s trying to find that window in the trees with a 15 per cent chance of success. There’s an 85 per cent chance we’ll hit the tree and end up deeper in the woods.
Let’s chip out, grab our good par – bogey at worst – and move on to the next hole.