Almost since that moment two months ago when the COVID-19 virus became the only thing all of us talked about, we've been told over and over that golf should be immune to any lockdown restrictions.
It's a healthy form of exercise - for everyone.
It's an outdoor activity that naturally promotes social distancing.
What could be safer than golf?
Public health officials in a few states agreed and left golf courses open. Many did not, and ordered their doors closed and the first tee off limits. Now, as restrictions ease and states and local municipalities begin to reopen segments of the economy, including golf courses, a group of industry associations developed a set of guidelines to help ease the process of reopening golf.
The three-step, phased-in approach by We Are Golf called Back2Golf is endorsed by the PGA Tour, PGA of America, LPGA, NGCOA, CMAA and GCSAA and "outlines operational guidelines for golf's 16,000-plus facilities that adhere to nationally established protocols and best practices."
Back2Golf's principles are based on general safety guidelines established by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including steps for social distancing and sanitizing in high-contact areas. Each phase gradually eases restrictions as state and local governments begin gradually reopening the economy. You can read about all the protocols set for by We Are Golf right here.
As well-intentioned as this gesture is, some are going to struggle implementing it.
Of course, there are common sense guidelines for all to follow. Maintain adequate social distance, no large groups and don't touch things like flagsticks. Superintendents have done marvelous jobs at coming up with ways to help golfers avoid those touch points you once took for granted.
The first phase of Back2Golf allows for socializing in groups of 10 or less, the second for groups up to 50, all while maintaining appropriate social distancing. At many places, this will mean single rider carts or walking only.
Again, no problem there.
Phases 1 and 2 also advise that vulnerable individuals continue to shelter-in-place until it is deemed safe to come out - whenever that might be. Vulnerable individuals are those most at risk for contracting the virus and include all golfers age 65 and older, according to the CDC.
The Back2Golf guidelines advise that seniors not return to the course until Phase 3, which the We Are Golf collaboration has dubbed “The New Normal” and is described as a period when golf operations can "resume as normal" as state and local government restrictions dictate based on changing CDC guidelines.
As golf courses reopen, keeping seniors off the tee during any phase is going to be, at best, difficult.
Seniors represent the life blood of many golf course operations, including just about every facility in Florida, and they carry a lot of clout in the industry. In the words of one superintendent we talked to: “they've worked hard all their lives to make money to play golf, and we're not going to tell them they can't.”
Another said golf courses will do what their local government agencies, not a collaboration of golf industry associations, tell them to do.
Some will follow the guidelines, some probably won't. Some will be able to enforce it fully or at least partially through walking-only policies.
Do we really need this industry group to tell us who can play golf and when, and who cannot?
Are you prepared to demand identification from older customers like teenagers trying to buy beer? Are you prepared to tell them to go home simply because of some arbitrarily determined phase? If you are not, then why are associations that represent you establishing guidelines on your behalf telling you that you should?
Frankly, I'm leery of these industry collaborations that are launched in good faith, but all too often result in nothing. Why don't they concentrate on things they can control? Fix pace of play, fix the ball, fix customer service at the point of sale. But don't tell those who often carry the water for an entire industry that they can or cannot play. If you do, they'll likely find another place that will let them play. And you might never see them, or their money, again.
There is no question that older people are more at-risk for contracting the virus than younger generations and many should continue to stay home due to the virus. But, should a person in their 60s who is fit and is able to walk nine or 18 holes, or who can ride alone if you are allowing carts, be turned away? That seems like a recipe for failure in an already-struggling industry that needs every player it can get.
Why go down that shelter-in-place road if you don't have to? Leave that to government agencies who already have pissed off half the country for waiting too long to reopen the country and half for doing it too soon. Many already have developed their own protocols for maintaining safe practices on the golf course anyway.
If golf wants to know why people are fleeing the game in droves, it needs only to look in the mirror as it closes the door on its most important demographic while continuing to ignore larger issues within its control.