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  • Alistair Tait

American golfers need to catch up

Interesting debate on Morning Read today about playing golf in America during the coronavirus. Call it déjà vu.

I had the same debate with several people before the government finally did the right thing and closed all golf courses in Great Britain. I even had a debate with a friend and colleague after the courses were already closed.

There are still parts of America where golf is allowed. John Hawkins and Mike Purkey take opposing sides in a point-counter-point debate – Play golf or not? – with Hawkins coming down on the don't play side, and Purkey taking the contrary view. Hawkins writes:

“Our vision should be focused on containing this deadly scourge and limiting the time in which we are all impositioned to as short of a period as possible. That should mean no golf. Period. When so many lives are being turned upside-down, putting a little white ball at an inverted cup amounts to defiance disguised as ignorance.”

I’d perhaps substitute arrogance for ignorance in this instance, but then golf and arrogance is hardly an oxymoron.

Purkey’s take is similar to some on this side of the pond who felt it was okay to play on since hitting a small white ball around a pleasant green field is a form of exercise, and we are told we need to take exercise. He writes:

“The game offers everyone who plays an important respite from the oppressive news that continues to pile up daily. We don’t think golfers are taking chances if we continue to do the right thing…. I live in Charlotte, N.C., and we are now under a “stay at home” order. One of the things we are allowed to do is play golf. If health officials think it’s safe, that’s good enough for me.

It’s not good enough, Mike. It sends completely the wrong message. We’re being told to stay home and golfers think it’s okay to head to the golf course.

Believe me, there is nothing I’d love to do more at this time than head to the golf course with my dog Izzy. I’m not alone. Thousands are like me.

A friend walks his dogs on the course he’s a member of in Scotland. His argument to me after the closures was: surely if it’s okay for me to walk the dogs on the course then it’s okay for me to play golf?

I pointed out to him that if everyone thought the same way then the courses would be packed. With nothing to do and most people on furlough, they’d naturally take advantage of playing. And we know not everyone would be playing on their own. You’d have two-balls going out, four-balls going out, large groups holding their regular swindles.

I know many would practise social distancing and stick to the guidelines about not touching flagsticks, etc. But with the best will in the world there would be times when many lapsed back into old habits, when they come within close proximity to one another.

As I said to my Scottish friend, if we’re allowing people to head to golf courses all over the country then that’s a lot of people on the roads. Will all of those people travel in single cars, not stop at petrol stations to fill up so they can avoid contact with others, guarantee they won’t get in car accidents.

Martin Slumbers recently guessed there about 2.5 million people who play golf in Great Britain & Ireland. I believe the figure is 27 million for the United States. You don’t have to be mathematician to figure out that if, say, just a 1/10 of those numbers decided to head to the golf courses, then that’s a lot of people out on the roads when we’re being told to stay at home. After all, most of us can’t walk to our local golf course.

Thankfully, my friend saw the light. He wrote to me to say he’d had a Road to Damascus moment. He didn’t want to spread the perception that playing golf is okay lest others are encouraged to do so too, that golfers were somehow above the law.

I hope Purkey and others in the United States come to that conclusion, too. As I’ve said previously, this stick and ball game matters not in these troubled times. The game will still be there when this is over.

Courses in Continental Europe closed down about a week/10 days before British and Irish courses. American courses need to shut down too. We all need to believe in the hashtag our European friends cottoned on to before us - #StayHomeSaveLives.

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