Should golf courses be open during a pandemic?
Some say with the right precautions, golf could provide a healthy outlet
Spring is usually the time of year when golfers grab their clubs and head to the links. But things are different this year with COVID-19 measures shutting down non-essential businesses and all outdoor recreational amenities.
Golfing businesses throughout Windsor-Essex and Chatham-Kent are disappointed that they've had to close, or delay their openings. They understand the need to contain the virus but some say golf could be helpful — especially at a time like this.
"I feel that we should be open to help people with mental illness," said Brandi Weaver, the manager of Hidden Hills Golf and Country Club in Dover Centre, northwest of Chatham.
In addition to running the golf club, Weaver is also a nurse. She used to work full-time at a hospice, but since becoming co-owner of the golf club, she only works as a nurse on occasion. She hasn't worked on the front lines since February.
"I understand the social isolating. But I also feel that [a golf course] is an open space and we're taking all the precautionary [measures], so I think it does hurt the business itself. But also I think you're going to see a lot of crisis and people in crisis," she said.
"And then it's just going to flood the emergency rooms and I don't think it's a good idea."
'How stir crazy are we going to get?'
Weaver said she understands the seriousness of the pandemic, but she wants to make sure those with mental health challenges get the support and outlets they need.
She added that customers have been vocal about their own mental health challenges and how helpful golf has been for them. She said the course is 60 hectares which allows for plenty of space between players.
"I'm trying, but I just want to make sure it's the right thing to do."
She said she's reached out to health officials for guidance and she's been told golf courses should remain closed, that they are not considered essential, but that there might be an opportunity to re-assess in the future.
Weaver said that before her business was ordered to close down, the golf course implemented a variety of safety measures like single cart use, and the washing and wiping of every surface and every piece of equipment that gets touched.
Isaac Friesen, the owner of Orchard View Golf Course in Ruthven says he's fielding calls from customers every day who are disappointed and eager to get out of the house. He added that being able to get outside and go for a walk was "therapy" for some.
He said he understands the need for business closures, but that down the road, there might be an opportunity for golf courses to remain operational while still respecting physical distancing regulations.
"I guess the real question, when it comes to 14, 28, 30 days more ... How stir crazy are we going to get? I think that's where maybe golf kind of sees itself as an outlet for people to kind of get out," he said.
"I think maybe done right, we can do that. Golf as a rule is a socially distant sport."
Not a hit to business just yet, says Malott
Joshua Malott, the general manager at Belleview Golf Club in South Woodslee agrees that with the right safety precautions, he doesn't see why they couldn't be open, but that for now, he understands that stopping the spread is the top priority.
As for how this is affecting the bottom line, Malott said they're not experiencing a financial hit just yet.
"There's lots of years where we're not even open at this time anyway," he explained.
"When it comes to normal golf course operation, even if we do open in March, there's no guarantee that people are golfing in April because the weather can change. You know, you take a year like last year, golf really didn't get started 'til the second week of June because it rained and rained and rained."
He added that if the closures continue into May, that's when it would really start cutting into their season.
Listening to experts
Meanwhile, Doug Quick, the general manager of Kingsville Golf Club, says a golf course is an easy place to follow social distancing rules, but that ultimately, he's taking his cue from public health officials.
"I think this particular virus is so new and so unknown that we're not really going to make an opinion whether we should be open or not. We're going to follow whatever the experts tell us to do."
On Monday, the province of Ontario extended the Declaration of Emergency and the associated emergency measures, including the closure of non-essential workplaces. It also issued a new emergency order closing all communal or shared public or private, outdoor recreational amenities everywhere in Ontario.
The Windsor-Essex County Health Unit says its recommendations are in line with the province's, which are that everyone should stay home, except for essential reasons, like accessing health care services, groceries and walking a pet.
Golf courses are not listed as an essential workplace, but there is a form available on the province's website that allows businesses that believe they're essential to apply to be added to the list.
So for golf courses that would like to be open, that is an option.