Sudbury

Golf courses lobby to get Ontario to reverse closures amid pandemic

People hoping to hit the greens this spring were surprised Ontario's enhanced stay-at-home-order amid the pandemic has shut golf courses, among other outdoor amenities.

'Golf proved to be very safe last year,' Sudbury club's general manager says

Tom Arnott, general manager and chief operating officer of Idylwylde Golf and Country Club in Sudbury, says he doesn't understand why Ontario's stay-at-home order includes closing golf courses and other outdoor amenities. (Supplied by Tom Arnott)

Golfers hoping to hit the greens this spring were surprised Ontario's enhanced stay-at-home-order to address rising COVID-19 rates has shut golf courses, among other outdoor amenities.

Now, enthusiasts of the sport are lobbying the province to reopen golf sites that were closed effective April 16.

The no-contact outdoor sport was played throughout 2020, after clubs initiated health and safety protocols.

"Golf proved to be very safe last year," said Tom Arnott, general manager and chief operating officer with Idylwylde Golf and Country Club in Sudbury.

The Lively Golf Club in Ontario experienced a record 2020 year. General manager Mark Taylor says that's because golf is an outdoor sport that can be played by people from the same household. (Supplied by Lively Golf Club)

"It was recorded: 20 million rounds played in Ontario by just shy of two million golfers with zero [COVID-19] cases in the province due to the game of golf."

"A lot of other sports were cancelled, where with golf because of all the safety regulations and stuff that we put in place, it allowed not just husbands and wives, but families to get out in a safe environment," said Mark Taylor, general manager of Lively Golf Club.

Taylor said 2020 was a record season for his club.

"It was unbelievable. Our membership went up, our green fee rounds went up. Overall, it was the best year." 

Golf courses, like Timberwolf Golf Course in Sudbury, must still maintain their properties, even while closed during the enhanced stay-at-home order in Ontario. (Erik White/CBC )

Bobby Chaumont, pro-shop manager at TImberwolf Golf Club in Garson, said taking away the ability to hit the links has been devastating.

"Being able to go to the golf course, and enjoy a safe environment and be out of the house for four or five hours was something that everyone was looking forward to, especially in a time now that we're not able to do many things," he said.

Campaign to fight fire with fire

Arnott is past president of the Central Ontario chapter of the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA), which represents 300 golf courses and is lobbying the province to allow golf courses to reopen. 

"We're actually starting to finally get some backing from some well-known doctors in the government circles that are agreeing with us, so we're hoping we can see some kind of a change in the golf courses," said Arnott.

He calls it a campaign to fight fire with fire, saying golf interests will argue that shutting courses aren't necessary given "all we know from last season."

"There's enough pressure being put on from not only the association, but the public, and now doctors from within the Ford government who also agree that golf should be open, if even just for the sake of people's mental stability."

In an email to CBC News, Richard Edmonds, president of NGCOA Central Ontario, said he hopes golf courses will reopen before the province's stay-at-home order expires May 20.

People need outdoor recreation outlets for their own and others' well-being.- Richard Edmonds, National Golf Course Owners Association Central Ontario

"There is no data that show's closing golf course will reduce the amount of case counts or the need for ICU beds in the province. People need outdoor recreation outlets for their own and others' well-being."

A lengthy closure means loss of revenue because no one is using the courses. In the meantime, some clubs are offering takeout or curbside pick up of meals from their kitchens to help bring in revenue. 

Arnott said golf clubs still must maintain their properties.

"It can't stop, so we have this added expense now of all the labour, but we have nothing to offset it as far as revenues are concerned."

Most golf clubs had already started to prepare to open when the provincial stay-at-home order was announced, so could be ready to restart by the time the current lockdown ends.

"A lot of people are just excited to get golfing again, and I think we're not going to have very many problems having people come out," said Chaumont.

The province has long said it's top priority is health and safety. Like many other provinces and jurisdictions around the world, Ontario is in the third wave of the pandemic. 

The Ministry of Heritage, Sport, Tourism and Culture Industries is responsible for outdoor amenities in this province.

In a statement to CBC News, a ministry spokesperson said, "All the measures being undertaken by the government are designed to limit the risk of transmission [of COVID-19], reduce mobility between different regions of the province for non-essential activities, and position Ontario to reopen after the period with an improved and more stable health system and public health system.

"All outdoor recreational amenities, including golf courses, are required to close, with limited exceptions," the statement added.

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This would normally be the start of the golf season, but due to the stay-at-home order, most golf courses are closed until mid-May. The CBC's Angela Gemmill spoke with Tom Arnott, the CEO of Idylwylde Golf and Country Club, about his efforts to get the golf season going. 7:16

"We remain committed to protecting the health and well-being of all Ontarians, and we continue to work with our sport and recreation sectors on how best support a return to play when it is safe to do so."

ABOUT THE AUTHOR

Angela Gemmill

Journalist

Angela Gemmill is a CBC journalist who has covered news in Sudbury, Ont., for 14 years. Connect with her on Twitter @AngelaGemmill. Send story ideas to angela.gemmill@cbc.ca

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