Sport Golf Swing and a miss against golf ban, as peak body worries about ‘club health’
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Swing and a miss against golf ban, as peak body worries about ‘club health’

Golfers keep their distance at a Melbourne course in March before the lockdown. Photo: AAP
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In a global pandemic, when body bags are piling up in some countries and sport is shut down for the wider good, who’d have thought that golf would become the hurdle that some Australians of a certain age and profile would choose to make their hill of discontent?

Then again, of course people like AFL media mouthpiece John ‘Sam’ Newman have, even though Golf Australia has opted for gentle stroke play rather than pulling out the driver and going whack against the Victorian holdouts.

The peak body has behaved responsibly through the coronavirus crisis, looking to the safety of its staff and club members in supporting initial course shutdowns.

And it’s also looking out for the financial health of clubs, an aspect the loud voices seem to forget when agitating for their right to play.

“First and foremost, we are focused on community safety and staff safety,” Golf Australia’s media spokesman Mark Hayes said.

“Secondly, we are concerned about the ongoing viability of clubs.

“So while people can play around the country, the restrictions on social distancing means they have less player volumes and they do not have the capacity via game and bar sales to keep the club financials ticking over.”

Apart from Victoria only the Northern Territory has banned the game, with New South Wales lifting its ban two weeks ago.

Other states have remained open provided social distancing measures are enforced.

Golf Australia had initially supported course closures, but the recent agitation off course saw it update its policy on Friday, saying it is “now satisfied that golf can be played at minimal risk”.

“Having worked collaboratively with our clubs and other stakeholders, we are now comfortable to alter our position and encourage courses to open and for people to play,” Golf Australia said in a statement.

On Monday Victorian Premier Daniel Andrews remained unmoved, suggesting in no uncertain terms that the Governor of New York Andrew Cuomo would love to be talking about golf.

“So many countries around the world had very similar rules in place to what we have. Then they relaxed the rules,” Mr Andrews said.

Many world leaders, in jobs like I’ve got, wish they were having a debate about golf. They’re not. They’re having a debate about where the temporary morgues will go.’’

Golf in Victoria is still deemed a “non-essential” activity and as such means it comes under the same rules as other sports and activities beyond basic exercise.

Despite the high-profile angst against the Victorian ban from the likes of former Footy Show provocateur Newman, the lifting of restrictions in Victoria will not happen.

As the one-time Geelong star and bagged-cement salesman pitched balls at his sports car collection in a cavernous garage, his disconnect with the daily privations of less-well-off Victorians was obvious – particularly when comparing his need for golf with those using public transport to get to work.

Still, there’s no show without punch and the campaign has attracted support from many golfers, along with Victorian Liberal MP Tim Smith –who has also urged the culling of flying fox bats – and cricketer Shane Warne, who did, in fairness offer his spin in more measured tones.

While the protests of a 71-year-old former footballer have been attracting a lot of attention in Victoria – although apparently not from the police –  the reality is that golf’s status as a “good walk ruined” has caused it to be wedged between being viewed as either a team sport or regular exercise.

The same debate has played out in the United States, where President Donald Trump appears to have been getting grumpier by the week without his regular golfing sojourns to Florida.

Mr Trump was last able to take to the course at the start of March, but it became politically impossible as the pandemic raged and vulnerable elderly Americans started to be cut down in their thousands.

Many US states have continued golf, but others have not, with some bans coming after players flouted social distancing and hygiene rules.

Nevada Governor Steve Sisolak announced on April 8 that he was ordering all of the state’s golf courses be closed because people were not doing the right thing.

“I’ve had a multitude of pictures sent into me that showed me people were not practising good social distancing, not arriving one in a cart,” Mr Sisolak was quoted as saying at golfadvisor.com.

“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.”

Donald Trump’s golfing adventures have stopped for now. Photo: Getty

As for the professionals, the PGA Tour is hoping to be back on course in the US on June 11.

No one knows what the world will look like in two months, but the Tour is confident it will be able to resume for the Charles Schwab Challenge at Colonial Country Club in Fort Worth on June 11, albeit without spectators,

Still, a lot of things need to go right for that timing to work, with improved testing of players and the lifting of travel bans to allow international pros to attend.

“We’re optimistic, but I’m not going to say on this call that I have 110 per cent certainty,” PGA chief of operations Andy Pazder said in a conference call last week.

In the meantime, golf clubs are being urged to fit out their course with hole fittings that make it easier for players to not spread COVID-19, with festivities at the 19th hole also looking off the agenda for some time yet.

As for Victoria’s ban, Golf Australia maintains that it will continue to be mindful of its community responsibilities even as it maintains the game poses no risk provided safety measures are followed.

“These safety protocols include keeping gloves on and not touching hands with playing partners, not sharing carts, leaving flags in, reducing hole depth, greater times between groups, not exchanging cards, not using bunker rakes and maintaining personal hygiene.”

It’s a similar argument that Newman has been making, but also works against much of the community messaging the state government has offered in a bid to keep the virus at bay.

“I would love to have the pubs reopen, I would love to have footy back, [but] there’s no playbook for this, the Victorian Premier said.

“We have to make the best decisions in good time with an abundance of caution.

“We can’t give all this progress back by letting our frustration get the better of us. No one’s enjoying this. It is very difficult, but it is working.”

Throughout last week as Newman offered his Twitter followers a series of tantrum videos about golf’s apparent victimisation, the Premier was asked if the campaign by a man known as ‘fossil’ had him thinking about changing his mind.

“I didn’t give Sam much thought, I must say,” Mr Andrews said.