Golf is cancelled in Alberta but some still want to tee off

When the provincial government issued an order last month to close all recreation facilities, it intended that to cover golf courses.

With modifications, golf course owner says it can be made safe

Golf courses in Alberta have been ordered closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. (Scott Dippel/CBC)

When the provincial government issued an order last month to close all recreation facilities, it intended that to cover golf courses.

Some southern Alberta courses have opened since then. Most remain closed due to a late arrival of real spring weather.

But some operators say if they change the way their courses are run, the sport can be made as safe as other activities which are still allowed.

The owner of Windmill Golf in Calgary has been working with industry players to develop new rules for courses.

Barry Ehlert said ensuring physical distancing and preventing congregating in parking lots and around tee boxes is one thing.

Changes could make golf safer

But removing common touch points is also key to ensuring public safety.

"For example, we know that there's a way that we can have a modified golf cup so there's no point of contact, leaving pins in, not having rakes on the golf course and those types of things," said Ehlert.

"Over and above that, we would have people on our team actually monitoring things." 

Most golf courses have a pro shop and a restaurant or lounge. Ehlert said that means more changes to ensure public health.

Pro shops would either be closed or be one customer at a time. Clubhouses could offer food for take-out only like restaurants are now doing.

Beer and bragging rights after the game would be off limits. 

Club and pull cart rentals also couldn't be allowed.

Ehlert said just as walking, running or cycling are approved by health officials if done safely, there's no reason golf couldn't be added to the list with these changes being made.

Possible health benefits

In fact, he argues allowing golf would support positive mental health and keep people working.

"There are some benefits to people being able to just be outside, to be able to enjoy the fresh air," said Ehlert.

"I've been talking to people that are feeling cooped up and maybe having a bit of the blues. I really know that we can create a safe and healthy environment with the advice of the different levels of government."

However, government and public health officials don't appear to be interested in having that conversation.

Chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw said on Thursday that golf courses are not an essential service.

"Like other non-essential services, golf courses can have workers attend the grounds to get the golfing range ready if they should be able to open this season, but golf courses are not accessible to the public at this time because they are a non-essential service " 

In a statement, Alberta Health said the decision to include golf courses in a public health order that closes all recreation facilities wasn't taken lightly.

"Attendance at golf courses is prohibited in Alberta," said the statement from Tom McMillan with Alberta Health. 

Although it wasn't a priority during wintry March weather, he said officials would be reaching out to golf course operators to ensure they're aware of the health order.

Until the pandemic subsides and the current public health orders are lifted, it means golf video games or practising their putting in the backyard is about all Alberta golfers can hope to legally play.