Golf in a COVID-19 World

I returned to my seasonal job working in the shop at Steamboat Golf Club in May, and have been making up for what I consider lost time (i.e.; winter) by playing as often as time (and my occasionally balky back) will allow there and at our wonderful municipal course, Haymaker. The weather here on the Western Slope of the Rocky Mountains has been mostly gorgeous, although after another year of abundant snowfall, we use some rain right about now.

Course operations in Colorado’s Routt County (and in pretty much the entire country) have made adjustments to mitigate risks driven by the COVID-19 virus – limited number of players allowed in clubhouses, masks required indoors, heavy applications of disinfectants to rented pull carts, motorized carts, and bathrooms before and after use (Alti-Mate 64 is my new cologne). Rakes have been removed from bunkers, flagsticks are not to be touched, and foam inserts are placed in holes.

Golfers have been, by and large, respectful of these measures, which speaks to the devotion (some call it fanaticism) of this particular sub-species. Even red-hatted science-deniers have cooperated with minimal grumbling. Moreover, because in part of the restrictions on (or cancellation of) other societal activities, courses are busier than ever.

I have people telling me that they’ve returned to game after a long hiatus and are actually enjoying it – or in some cases, at least grateful for having an opportunity to get out of the house while posing minimal health risk to one’s self. Parents are bringing their kids out to hit a few balls – a father brought his two sons out a few days ago, one of whom would typically fall under the category of “sullen teenager.” I went out to greet them after the completion of their round and did my usual “how did it go?” query. Said teenager, practically bubbling over, “Great! I actually got a few shots in the air this time!” I looked at his dad; the smiles beneath our masks were evident.

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Because of the example set by the 1% wealthiest people in the United States – and exploited to the extreme by the current occupant of the White House – golf’s reputation has taken a hit. Unlike where the game was invented, where golf is viewed by the Scots as a democratic game to be enjoyed by all, the roots of the game here lie in old-money clubs, a model that morphed into “aspirational” private courses for the new-monied gentry.

The real story is that the overwhelming number of courses in the USA are open to the public, and most are reasonably priced. Sadly, the game remains primarily white, although when one watches the annual Drive, Chip, and Putt competition that Augusta National hosts prior to the Masters, the number of children from Indian and Asian families participating is remarkable and encouraging.

One segment of the population that is helping to keep the game afloat is increased participation by women, a fact that probably has my father spinning in his grave (an often repeated – although totally inaccurate – bromide is that the word “golf” is an acronym for “Gentlemen Only, Ladies Forbidden.” You can ask Mary Queen of Scots about that one). When Title IX passed, many parents suddenly learned of scholarships available via collegiate women’s golf programs and got their daughters interested in the game. Professional women discovered the advantages of entertaining potential clients on the course. And others, like their male counterparts, found the challenge and frustrations of the game too enticing to resist.

I wouldn’t go so far as to say that a golf renaissance is on the horizon as a result of COVID-19, but in a country that, to use the gentlest language possible, is struggling to grasp the seriousness of the current pandemic (as well as witnessing the boiling over of long-simmering racial tensions), finding refuge by taking a walk (that’s another thing, people – it’s a walking game, dammit!) in park-like surroundings while taking whacks at the little white spheroid seems like a reasonable escape for a few hours.

Although I hear fly fishing has its charms, too …

 

 

 

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