Golf players urge Ontario government to reverse course of shutdown order
Tim Ingram took his golf-obsessed six-year-old son Max to Whistle Bear Golf Club for a few swings in the spotlight as time ticked down to Ontario’s latest stay-at-home orders – which , from 12:01 a.m. Saturday, golf prohibited in the provinces.
Young Ingram, who strapped on a headlamp, stayed up well after bedtime to play Whistle Bear, where three of the holes were lit so golfers could play until midnight.
Max and Tim, like golfers across Ontario, had to put their on-course plans on hold. But the golfers’ feeling is less anger and more confusion and sadness.
“I was watching (Max) walk up the 18th green, and it was hard not to cry,” said Adam Tobin, director of golf at the Cambridge, Ont., club, which hosted nearly 50 people last night. before the entry into force of the new decree.
Premier Doug Ford announced Friday that the province will close outdoor recreational facilities, such as golf courses, among other measures as part of an extended provincewide stay-at-home order. The new measures came in response to “the continuing and concerning growth in COVID-19 case rates, the threat to the province’s hospital system capacity (and) the growing risks posed by variants of COVID-19,” a spokeswoman for Health Minister Christine Elliott said in an email.
Following the announcement, a Change.org petition seeking to allow outdoor activities garnered more than 15,000 signatures in 24 hours. The province has already waived the closure of playgrounds and Mike Kelly, general manager of Golf Ontario, hopes golf will be next.
According to Kelly – citing figures from the National Golf Course Owners Association and Golf Canada – there were a record number of rounds played in the country last year, including 20 million in Ontario. Despite this, Kelly said there have been no reported cases of COVID-19 transmission and no golf facility-related outbreaks.
“Golf is not the problem. It has to be part of the solution,” Kelly said. “Golf is naturally aligned with physical distancing and there is no doubt that it is about the activity the safest outdoor recreation area available today.”
This thought is echoed by many in the medical community.
Ashleigh Tuite, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health, said the risk of COVID-19 transmission outdoors is “low,” especially compared to indoor activities.
“If you’re outdoors and spaced out, or wearing masks, the risk is low,” she said. “This year has shown us how important it is to get outside, and it’s actually a good thing to know it’s safer outside.”
Isaac Bogoch, an infectious disease specialist at Toronto General Hospital, said the focus should be on the real issues. The closing of golf courses, he said, was “a bit of a distraction”.
“We know where the vast majority of transmission is happening and we know it’s not outdoors,” Bogoch said. “When we want to talk about really taking action to curb the pandemic, let’s focus our energy where the vast majority of infections are happening, and that’s indoor environments.”
In Toronto last weekend, a photo of masked Alex Letros holding his golf bag and a sign that read “Let Us Golf” went viral. He joined protests at City Hall on Saturday and Queen’s Park on Sunday.
A member of Whitevale Golf Club in Pickering, Letros plays every day, he said, and has had to cancel all of his upcoming games.
With nothing else going on, he decided to head downtown – the clubs in tow.
“I’ve been in love with golf since I was a kid and that’s why I’m so upset. I can’t play and I have nothing else to do,” Letros said. “Winter. We wait and wait, and I’ve tasted it, played it a few times, but then it was like… Wow. It was just a tease at that point.”
Many public golf courses are an integral part of their communities and face the same challenges as small businesses in the province.
Barry Forth, general manager of Copetown Woods Golf Club near Hamilton, said the financial impact of closing the course (which had been open for three weeks) would be in the tens of thousands of dollars a day.
Copetown Woods was full for this weekend, Forth said – around 250 golfers a day. Golfers can book tee times up to two weeks in advance and Forth said the club is “essentially full” for the next 14 days.
He preached safety not only to golfers, but also to his staff, throughout golf’s boom year of 2020, he said.
“We did everything, and more, we were asked to do last year. And we proved that golf could be a safe activity for people,” Forth said. “Once we reopen, none of this will change. We do everything we can to make customers and employees feel safe.
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