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OPINION: How golfers view COVID vaccinations is directly impacting where they can play - Australian Golf Digest OPINION: How golfers view COVID vaccinations is directly impacting where they can play - Australian Golf Digest

Club golf in Australia is transforming in a way never seen before and in a way surely no one ever envisaged. Much like broader society looks set to be split into two camps – the vaccinated and non-vaccinated – so too are golf clubs.

Your freedom to play golf now appears tied to your willingness to be vaccinated against COVID-19, as the list of golf clubs requiring golfers or members to be vaccinated in order to play there grows longer.

This isn’t the space in which to debate the arguments either for or against vaccination; there are thousands of words of information, discussion and vitriol on the internet for that. Instead, I am more interested in the ramifications for Australian golf clubs and their golfers as the divide between these two sides in society becomes wider.

Royal Melbourne, bravely and resolutely, jumped first. That the highest-profile golf club in the land dove into the ‘no jab, no play’ pool first is telling. For one, it reaffirmed RM’s importance and standing in the game here, while it also paved the way for more clubs – that were perhaps nervous at the prospect – to follow, and follow with confidence. If challenged in any way, a golf club could simply point to the top and say, “If Royal Melbourne can do it, so can we.”

Depending on where you look for the myriad opinions people have on the topic, among the loudest voices is that of Andrew Kirby, who is the captain of Royal Melbourne and a barrister. I am a sucker for a good analogy and he authored a beauty on Twitter in late September.

“It takes huge natural ability and a life of hard work to become an immunology expert,” Kirby wrote. “[It’s] a bit like winning a golf Major. Thinking you know more than an immunologist about COVID is like saying you will beat Jon Rahm at golf – you won’t.”

Kirby was later a guest on the “Inside The Ropes” podcast and extolled the virtues of Victoria’s Daniel Andrews-led vaccination route.

“Our premier has been very strong that the pathway out is vaccination, so we very much saw it as the way to get golf open,” Kirby told the podcast. “That was a really compelling part of it.

“You’re totally free not to get vaccinated but you’re not free to infect others. That’s my philosophy on this. It is a pandemic. It is an extraordinary time and the only way out of this is through vaccination.”

It’s a staunch and commendable stance to take during a time when it’s difficult to ignore Hippocrates’ “Desperate times call for desperate measures” tenet. My concern is tied more to the reactionary aspect and how golfers will treat one another in what is fast shaping as a two-tiered culture – a happy-to-go-along-with-the-health-advice majority and a vocal minority totally opposed to the notion of forced change.

Here’s another example of how a passion-filled split can play out: my home club recently voted to sell off two parcels of land within the confines of its boundaries. It required a vote by members at a special meeting and while the proposal did receive more than the required 50 percent of supporters to proceed, it was anything but unanimous. In fact, the matter proved to be quite divisive. In the lead-up to the vote in May, some discussions among members about the proposal became heated, while rumours circulated, arguments ensued and decades-long friendships were severed… over a vote to sell off land along our current boundary with minimal impact on the current layout.

If such a scenario can cause such deep rifts at one golf club, I shudder to think what lies ahead at all clubs in the vaccination era.