Golf fever hits during virus

By Michael Roberts | posted on April 17, 2020

WHILE most social and competitive sport has been brought to a grinding halt, golf is one popular pastime that has escaped an industry-wide COVID-19 ban.

There has been some debate whether golf should be allowed to continue at all, with Golf Australia’s formal recommendation “that all golf clubs and facilities should close until further notice.”

But at state level, GolfWA hasn’t gone so far as to recommend a blanket ban, simply stating clubs should follow State Government restrictions if they wish to stay open.

At the end of last month, WA’s Prohibited Gatherings Directions came into place, effectively prohibiting gatherings of two or more people unless they usually live in the same household.

The directions meant social golf in WA could continue if players stuck to groups of two and practiced correct social distancing rules.

Locally, Albany Golf Club has had to make some significant changes to the way it operates but remains open to members who wish to play.

General Manager Dan Northcott said being able to play golf was important for its members’ mental health.

“It’s purely for the exercise, fresh air and getting out of the house,” he said.

The club’s bar and restaurant have had to shut down, while flag sticks, bunker rakes and ball washers have all been removed.

“Anything they can touch we basically took out of play for their safety,” Mr Northcott said.

Taking the advice of GolfWA and State Government, rather than Golf Australia, Mr Northcott said the club was adapting its rules as the pandemic evolved.

“In terms of the playing, it was incremental steps for about a two-week period,” he said.

“It was changing daily in terms of what we could do. We went from four players per group down to two. We widened our time slots and spread our groups out further.

“There was a lot of confusion around what agencies were saying what. Golf Australia was saying one thing, governments were saying another. Really, we just went under what State Government was recommending.”

Once COVID-19 restrictions came into place, Mr Northcott said Albany Golf Club had been getting about 50 players per day, which was a drastic reduction on usual playing numbers.

Mr Northcott said the club was now only open to members because they couldn’t directly communicate with public players on new restrictions.

“As far as I’m aware the public golf courses are shut,” he said.

“The main reason being they can’t communicate with the general public, whereas with members we have a database and can directly control the way they come in and play their golf.

“We didn’t want to do it, but we had to say members only and knock back a huge number of visitors who still want to come and play locally. If we opened it up it would be chaos.”

Club member Pauline Ruoss said she had been worried the golf club would remain closed throughout the crisis because getting on the green was an important part of her week.

“Without that it’s a big chunk out of your life,” she said.

During a challenging period, Ms Ruoss said it was great to be able to still get out of the house and talk to other people in person.

“A lot of our group are over the age of 60 and a lot of the ladies live on their own, so being fairly isolated and living on their own at home, this is great for mental wellbeing,” she said.

The keen golfer usually tees off twice a week on a Thursday and Saturday but Ms Ruoss she had now been playing even more to soak up some extra spare time.

“Not that it’s doing my golf any good but I’m playing a lot more and enjoying it,” she said.

Mr Northcott’s greatest concern was if the pandemic got worse and further restrictions affected course maintenance.

“Not looking after it for a month could take years to repair and get it back to the state it is in,” he said.