Montreal

While golfers in other provinces are teeing up, Quebecers are still waiting

With Quebec gradually reopening certain sectors, the industry is preparing for a very different kind of golf season.

Industry proposing changes that would reduce contact between players

Josh Davidson and other residents in B.C. have been playing golf for weeks already while in Quebec the courses all remain closed. (Submitted by Josh Davidson)

Josh Davidson feels lucky to be in a province where the COVID-19 shutdown orders have been lifted on some golf courses.

"It's really great. I take it as a privilege. I'm extremely grateful to go out there," said Davidson who used to live in Quebec until he relocated west for work in 2014.

On Sunday, Davidson and his friends finished an early morning round at the Belmont Golf Course in Langley, B.C., only to find out that another spot in the afternoon schedule had just opened up due to a cancellation.

So they teed up again and played another 18 holes.

"The fresh air, the physical activity and also to see some friendly faces, even from a couple feet away is nice. It's been a good thing for the mental state for sure." he said.

British Columbia was the first province in the country to allow access to some courses during the pandemic and more are getting the green light to open each week.

Golfers in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and New Brunswick are also back on the course as provincial governments loosen their restrictions. Alberta Premier Jason Kenny said on Thursday that Calgary-area courses could open soon, too.

But in Quebec, the courses remain closed and it's still uncertain when that is going to change.

Playing the waiting game

The Quebec Golf Course Association, in conjunction with industry partners, has submitted a document to government officials outlining what safety procedures they'd implement if they were allowed to reopen.

They argue golf can be played responsibly while respecting physical-distancing guidelines and aim to be one the first businesses allowed to reopen in the province.

The new regulations were distributed Tuesday to the approximate 350 courses around the province for managers to review and get ready to apply them on their courses.

Golf clubs in Quebec have been allowed to keep their grounds crews working throughout the pandemic so their greens and fairways don't fall into disrepair. But while many clubs will be ready to welcome golfers, there is no firm date on when playing a round will be permitted.

On Monday, the province pushed back the target for opening of non-essential retail businesses in the Montreal area to the week of May 18. That could be a sign that golf courses won't be fast-tracked. Discussions between golf industry leaders and the government are ongoing and public health will have the final say.

The financial stakes are substantial, the Quebec Golf Course Association says the sport is responsible for $2.48 billion per year to Quebec's GDP and employs 52,000 people in the province.

It's estimated that 30 per cent of their revenue comes from venue rentals for events like weddings and from club restaurants — and those parts of the business might be shuttered all season.

The Swaneset Golf Course, like many B.C., have a much longer playing season than those in Quebec. Many in Quebec open in late April or early May each year. (Submitted by Josh Davidson)

Unlike B.C., where the climate can allow for golf nearly all year, in Quebec many courses usually aim to open in late April or early May, so additional financial losses are just starting to accumulate.

But there is a bright spot for the industry: the pro shops where equipment is sold. They are considered retail, and in some areas of the province they were allowed to open on Monday.

Shops in the Montreal area have the green light to open the week of May 18.

Industry proposes new rules

The regulations proposed to reopen courses in Quebec are similar to what other provinces are already applying. The rules haven't been made public yet, but CBC News has obtained a copy of the document that is being sent to golf courses.

Golfers should expect to wait in their car until only a few minutes before they tee off. Only one person will be allowed into the club house to pay. If electric carts are allowed, only one person will be permitted to use it instead of two, unless both people are from the same household.

Rakes will be removed from sand traps and ball-washers will be removed from tee boxes. There will be no contact with flagpole or the cup, and a disc may be placed in the hole to prevent the ball from dropping in.

"You're not touching anything and you're keeping your distance, so I feel safe," said Davidson, who has played four rounds already this year in B.C. under the new rules.

He says the changes are inconsequential in the grand scheme of things.

"You don't hear that satisfying sound of the ball hitting the bottom of the cup," Davidson said.

"It's like doing anything else in public these days — like going to the grocery store — there is a difference, you feel it. But on the course, it's golf. It's great"

About the Author

Douglas Gelevan, a national award-winning sports journalist, has been a member of the CBC team since 2010. He is currently the sports journalist for CBC News Montreal.

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