British Columbia

Game on (or soon to be) for B.C. golfers as clubs bring in COVID-19 restrictions

Some golf courses are starting to reopen but new protocols in place to limit the potential spread of coronavirus mean the game isn't the same as it used to be.

Many golf courses are starting to reopen but coronavirus protocols have changed the way the game is played

Limiting golf carts to a single individual is one of the measures golf clubs are using to ensure players remain physically distanced. (PAPA WOR/Shutterstock)

After spending weeks in isolation at home because of the COVID-19 pandemic, getting together with the boys for a round of golf can feel a little strange. 

That's what Cam Cole discovered when he broke out the clubs for the first time in a long time last week at the Harvest Club in Kelowna, B.C., which reopened to members only with strict new rules around maintaining distance and not touching anything.

"The head pro actually met us on the first tee and said, 'OK fellas, the rules say six feet but I'd like it to be 16, because people driving by on the road can see onto our golf course, and there's lots of people out there who don't want golf clubs open.'"

Cole, an award-winning sportswriter and self-described golf addict, said he felt a weight of responsibility to not screw up by inadvertently getting too close to a playing mate or by grabbing the flag stick — things no one used to think twice about but now can get you kicked off a course.

Or worse, get the course closed down by public health officials.

"There's no, what you would call, normal interaction: no drinks afterward, no high five-ing or shaking of hands or any of the things that you associate with what you might call a genteel game."

"The experience was awkward, but quite doable," he said.

Two-time B.C. amateur champion Christine Wong says golf is the perfect sport for people looking to stay active and distanced in the time of COVID-19. (Shauna/Loretta/Mike/VGT)

Most fitness and recreation facilities have shuttered in response to physical distancing and hygiene requirements. But because of their outdoor and open spaces, golf courses have been spared.

It's true many did shut down when the pandemic state of emergency was first imposed, but now they are starting to reopen, albeit with tight restrictions on how the game can be played. 

Two-time B.C. amateur champion and Vancouver pro Christine Wong says that makes golfers the lucky ones. 

"If you want to be active ... I think golf is the easiest and best thing right now," she said. 

"It's not very hard to maintain social distance from your playing partners. The only time you may be close to the others is on the tee box waiting to tee off from the same spot. And at the end of the round instead of giving a handshake you just can just nod or thank them for the game," said Wong.

Putting greens and hitting cages are closed as part of measures to prevent golfers from congregating at Kelowna Springs Golf Club. (Brady Strachan/CBC)

On Friday, Dr. Mark Lysyshyn, deputy chief medical health officer with Vancouver Coastal Health, clarified in a letter the safeguards golf clubs need to have in place, including measures to  promote physical distancing and enhanced cleaning of hightouch surfaces like rental equipment.

According to the executive director of the Professional Golfers Association of B.C., clubs are taking the guidelines to heart. 

"A lot of amendments are being made to traditional golf," said Donald Miyazaki. "Flag sticks aren't allowed to be touched, the rakes are being removed from bunkers, same as garbage cans, ball washers, and so forth."

Miyazaki's organization represents 670 golf pros in the province. He says clubs are further reducing risks of coronavirus transmission by shrinking foursomes to threesomes, scheduling tee times farther apart and restricting carts to a single occupant.

Self-described golf addict Cam Cole, left, once spent a glorious day caddying for Jack Nicklaus. (Cam Cole)

According to Cole, COVID-19 has even altered the very raison d'être of the sport: getting the ball in the hole. 

At his course, sinking a putt is no longer even possible thanks to efforts to prevent the communal touchpoint that results from having to fish a ball out of a cup.

"There's a foam insert in the hole so that your ball never actually goes into the hole," he said.

"It's fine for me because my ball rarely goes into the hole anyway."

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