The global coronavirus pandemic has had significant effects on daily life throughout the world. Here in the United States, where there are almost three times as many cases as any other country, massive temporary changes to the public sphere have had to be enacted in order to slow the virus' spread.
The central pillar of all official organizations' recommendations about avoiding exposure to the virus is social distancing.
What is social distancing?
The Center for Disease Control defines social distancing as "keeping space between yourself and other people outside of your home." Three more specific guidelines are attached: keeping at least six feet between you and others, avoiding gathering in groups with friends and acquaintances and avoiding "mass gatherings."
Local and state governments have broadly accepted these recommendations but their responses have varied. An increasing number of states have imposed temporary shelter-in-place orders, ordering all "non-essential" businesses to temporarily suspend operations. Citizens have generally been advised not to venture outside their homes except to buy essential goods or to get periodic exercise, all the while observing social distancing practices.
Golf during the coronavirus pandemic
The question of exercise and recreation is where golf has come to occupy a unique place in society during these trying times. In short, whether or not golf is "essential" has been decided by state authorities, with varying results. For instance, governors in the states of Pennsylvania, Massachusetts and a dozen more states have decreed that golf courses be closed in accordance with their stay-home orders. But in Florida, a similar order is in place but Governor Ron DeSantis has not specifically ordered golf courses closed, but municipalities like Palm Beach County, where coronavirus cases are more widespread than in other places, have ordered courses within their borders closed for the time being.
One governor, Nevada's Steve Sisolak, announced on April 8 that he was ordering all of the state's golf courses closed amid golfers flouting social distancing guidelines.
“I’ve had a multitude of pictures sent into me that showed me people were not practicing good social distancing, not arriving one in a cart," he said. "They were congregating on the greens. We tried it. It didn’t work because some folks chose not to follow the rules. As a result we are closing golf courses.” Citizens of other states are keeping an eye out for golfers who don't follow social distancing guidelines as well.
They are doing things the right way. Very conscious of Social Distancing & providing sanitized carts (even set up outside to check us in).
Golf and social distancing are more compatible than most activities, but only if all participants do their part. Recognizing any outside activity carries some risk, Geoff Dreher of the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine put golf "on the milder end" of such a spectrum. If golf courses are permitted to remain open amid the pandemic, they need to be safe. The Golf and Health Project, sponsored by the World Golf Foundation, posted these safety guidelines for golfers and operators during this time of heightened risk. Here are some of the key takeaways for golfers:
Play away, please. Maintain at least a six-foot buffer from anyone else in your golf group. Walk any round you can. If you must ride, take your own cart whenever possible (many courses are mandating this) or at least make sure to share a cart only with someone you live with.
Respect the facility's rules. Golf courses that have remained open during the pandemic are working hard to sanitize surfaces and reduce points of contact from arrival to departure. As a customer, it is your responsibility to honor that work by respecting the restrictions on the normal golf experience. Leave flagsticks in when you putt and pick your ball out of the cup carefully if your course is placing foam or plastic in the cups to let balls rest higher up than normal.
Suspend tradition. The post-round handshake is almost sacrosanct in golf...except in times of potential disease transmission. Tap putterheads, bow or do an air-five to acknowledge and thank anyone you've played with, but leave the skin-to-skin contact aside for the time being.
Don't linger. Once your round is over, go home. Even while course restaurants are closed, some golfers have been congregating in the parking lot after their rounds. One of these impromptu tailgates led to a Connecticut course being closed when a citizen noticed golfers standing close together and then complained to the mayor's office about the violations. You don't want to be known as the golfer who ruined things for everyone else. Golf courses are under pressure to limit the flow of players daily in the name of social distancing. Help them adhere to the guidelines they've been given (e.g. this "Park and Play" checklist from the National Golf Course Owners Association).
Play healthy. If you have even the slightest feeling of illness, stay home. Even if you plan to be perfectly compliant with social distancing guidelines, do not risk exposing fellow golfers if you feel ill at all.
This a premium course and is in excellent shape. Supporting the ‘social distancing’ model, all four players had their own carts which eased anxieties and allowed us to focus on having a great time!
Federal, state and local officials continue to adjust their directions and definitions of "essential" businesses. On April 9, New York Governor Andrew Cuomo closed the state's golf courses through at least April 29, declaring them nonessential. Some avid golfers have decided against playing all together, even under these new guidelines.
If your city or state is currently permitting golf and you feel as though you can play golf during this time, using extreme caution is paramount. Careless golfers have caused the closure of not just their home course but are leading to the suspension of play at courses statewide and are impacting the perception of the game everywhere.