Over the past few days some of us at Australian Golf Digest, along with a slew of our contacts in various parts of the country, have tried to get a handle on what each state is doing in regards to keeping golf courses open or closed in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic. While far from any sort of uniformity, one thing became evidently clear:
Not much is actually clear.
Consider what’s been going on in Queensland.
On March 25 Queensland Chief Health Officer Dr Jeanette Young and the Queensland Government Director-General, Department of Justice and Attorney-General, David Mackie provided advice to Golf Australia that Queensland Golf Clubs can operate on their golf courses in accordance with National Cabinets approved measures relating to outdoor gatherings which includes but is not limited to having groups less than 10 people and maintaining a 1.5m spacing. This was hours after putting a ban on such behaviour before lobbying from Golf Australia to allow the courses to remain open for play ultimately proved successful.
In South Australia, such advice comes from The Office of Rec, Sport & Racing and The Office of Liquor & Gaming through Clubs SA. At the time of writing, clubhouses must be closed and there should be no food and beverage service at the club, whatsoever. The pro shop can remain open, but must not be used as a place of social gathering under any circumstance. And clubs should be operating on a members-only basis.
Down in Tasmania, its advice comes from the Tasmanian Hospitality Association. At the time of writing, the playing of golf can continue provided social distancing measures are in place. All licensed clubhouses should be immediately closed, with no food or beverage service taking place. Take away food and non-alcoholic beverages can be sold at pro shops.
Over in the west, GolfWA today communicated to all clubs to provide clarity on the Restriction of Activities Direction document received by some on Thursday, March 26.
It said: “Please note, GolfWA’s advice is state specific and therefore should be treated as the most updated advice for all clubs and facilities across Western Australia. It states that golf cannot be played in groups of 2 or more, unless people normally reside together.”
In New South Wales, the country’s most affected state with more COVID-19 cases than any other, you can still play. The information for NSW comes from government and law enforcement officials. “While your clubhouse operations must be closed for normal business, golfing activities can and should continue. Of course, golfers should exhibit a heightened awareness of personal hygiene and adhere to social distancing guidelines, as has been encouraged by state and federal health departments.”
Up in the Top End, the Northern Territory advice has been sourced from Licensing NT. Licensing NT have provided additional direction stating that your course can remain open, however all bar areas and outdoor drinking areas for members and guests must be closed. You can, however, continue to sell takeaway liquor to members with the clubhouse closed for any other purpose.
And just earlier this morning, Golf Australia announced its recommendations to cease all golf in the Garden State.
“It is Golf Australia’s recommendation that, based on the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services directive issued as part of the Victorian Government’s Stage 2 restrictions regarding COVID-19, all golf clubs and facilities should close as soon as practicable until April 13, 2020,” the sport’s governing body said in a statement online.
“The directive that prohibits social sports gatherings applies to golf clubs and facilities, which are classified as ‘recreational facilities’ under clause 5 of the directive.”
Confused yet? We certainly are. So which states can and can’t play again?
Enforcement of course closures raises an interesting dilemma for the sport: Is it really worth penalising someone for playing golf? What’s the harm in getting a bit of fresh air and trying to maintain one’s sanity after lengthy work-from-home days or home schooling (or both)? However, if the government declared golf off limits, it might be the only way to keep those itchy for any kind of escape from flooding the fairways.
Speaking with AAP’s Evin Priest earlier this week, Golf Australia acting chief executive Rob Armour said the mental health benefits of the sport are an inspiration to keep courses open and Golf Australia is publishing daily updates for clubs on its website.
“Golf is a fantastic way for Australians to get out and exercise and keep their minds active during a tough time for this country and the game can be played within the regulations the government has implemented to curb the virus,” he told AAP.
“Our priority right now is to provide clarity on the government announcements for clubs to help them operate within those parameters and advise clubs on additional precautions they can take.”
In these times it is difficult to know what is right. Golf, on its face, seems a reasonably safe activity if the proper precautions are taken, both by golfers and facilities. Yet like most things, there is nuance. A small private club doesn’t have the same activity as a bustling public facility. Without proper guidance, golf courses are left to decide where to draw the line. Or whether to draw one at all.
One important thing worth noting is the average age of golfers in Australia: 56 for men and 62 for women, according to Golf Australia’s 2018 Participation Report. A huge chunk of our golfing population are elderly and right in the danger zone if they were to contract COVID-19. Suffice to say, extreme caution needs to be taken. Perhaps taking this decision out of their hands is the only viable approach. But until there is consistency with the messaging from our state governments and those passing the message on in golf, it’s a dangerous choice being left up to the individual. – Additional reporting by E. Michael Johnson
• COVID-19 CONUNDRUM: Should there be a blanket ban on golf in Australia or none at all? Email us your thoughts at [email protected]