My Experience Back to Golf - by YOC VP of Programs Michael Lowe | Youth on Course

My Experience Back to Golf – by YOC VP of Programs Michael Lowe

It was my second round back, playing a course in California that had just reopened five days earlier. As we approached the thirteenth tee, they were impossible to miss. The course’s safety protocols only permit single-rider cart usage and a maximum of two carts per group, but off to the left and a few holes ahead of us, there were four golf carts with eight players huddled together. It was nearing the end of the day, so the marshals and staff had stopped doing their rounds and everyone on the course was aware of it. While it may have felt like an innocent opportunity to enjoy social connection, it was in effect also a conscious decision being made by these individuals to put themselves, the people they live with, and their communities at an increased risk of potentially contracting COVID-19.

My first instinct was to yell at them. But in the end, I said nothing. I did nothing. Neither did the two friends I was playing with. We just uttered a few negative words about their lack of regard and shared our concern that courses could be shut down again if golfers don’t do their part to flatten the curve. After hitting our next tee shots, we continued along our way, walking and talking with plenty of distance between us. We were doing our part, but I regret not saying something. If it happens again, I tell myself I will, but what would I say? And would it even make a difference?

Golf’s allied organizations have worked collaboratively to establish safety protocols and best practices to ensure courses are safe for players and employees. You can read about the three-phased approach of the “Back to Golf” plan here along with the industry’s Park and Play best practices here.

For golfers, the National Golf Foundation has outlined a few protocols for keeping ourselves and others safe during a round of golf:

  • Reserve tee time and pay for round online or by phone.
  • Adhere to safe social distancing guidelines before, during and after play.
  • Check the course’s website for operating and safety protocols before playing and respect the facility’s rules.
  • Bring antibacterial wipes or hand sanitizer for frequent use before, during and after play.
  • Handle your own golf bag at all times and don’t share clubs with other players.
  • Walking is recommended; single-rider cart usage only if riding.
  • Do not touch the flagstick or cup and avoid high-touch items like bunker rakes, ball-washers and water coolers.

Leadership from governing bodies like this is important, but ultimately, we are each responsible for making decisions to follow safe practices or not. We all know them now. Accidents can happen, but there are no excuses to be made.

As I think more about what I could have said to the golfers across the way, I consider how much easier it is to help someone in a group I’m a part of. If someone’s getting too close to me on a green or near a tee, saying something like, “Let’s keep our distance”, or “You’re getting a little too close to me” is all it takes. If I’m uncomfortable being vocal, I can simply back away until I feel safe and they should get the hint. The first round I played last week, I was paired with two strangers and after barely missing a long put, one of them started reaching down to pick up my ball for me. I let out a quick “Whoa! Don’t touch my ball!” and he paused. We chuckled, sharing the general understanding that even habits of courtesy like that are tough to break.

Like a lot of people, I’ve been having all sorts of conflicted feelings every day. As soon as courses reopened where I live, I couldn’t wait to get out. I played the first day I could, but in the back of my mind knowing how many people have lost their lives from the Coronavirus gives me pause every time I leave my apartment. As much as I’ve enjoyed playing again, I still question if it’s the right thing for me to do. Despite golf courses and a wide range of other business reopening, it’s important to understand that the COVID-19 virus has not gone away and will be impacting our lives for a while. If you don’t feel comfortable playing golf right now, whether it’s for safety concerns or your moral obligation to shelter in place, don’t do it. That’s perfectly fine. If you do decide to play, please do so with the utmost respect for the safety protocols that have been established. Use your best judgement and encourage others around you to do the same.

As someone who works in the industry and absolutely loves to play, golf is my livelihood and primary recreational activity. I’m glad golf is getting back to business and I understand the health of the economy is important, but I believe it should never precede the health of any human being. We should enjoy golf right now for all of the physical, mental, and social benefits it provides, but do so knowing that the opportunity to play can and will be taken away if the golf community doesn’t do our part to demonstrate that we can play safely. 

Play safely and enjoy the walk,

Michael Lowe
VP of Programs, Youth on Course