Golfers play on Ford due to ban on many outdoor activities in Ontario

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A closed facility at Lakeview Golf Course in Mississauga, Ont., on May 12, 2021.Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press

Chris Barber can’t help but think Ontario Premier Doug Ford has something against golf.

Mr. Barber, the executive professional/general manager of The Landings golf course and teaching center in Kingston, cannot understand why Mr. Ford has extended the ban on golf in Ontario until at least June 2. It was part of the government’s decision on Thursday to extend its stay-at-home order – which also bans many other outdoor activities – by two weeks due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Golf is not prohibited in any other jurisdiction in North America.

“There’s nothing logical about any of this, whether it’s golf, tennis courts or basketball courts,” Barber said. “Keeping people indoors is the complete opposite of what we should be doing.

“And to suggest that golf, one way or another, after an entire season last year of ongoing operations with zero cases reported in terms of transmission on a golf course, to now where we are considered like a big deal is ridiculous. There is no basis for this position other than what I imagine to be some sort of animosity towards the golf industry.

Mr Ford further drew the ire of golfers by saying the extension came after he spoke with his friends.

“They take another buddy, two or three go out, go golfing, there’s nothing wrong with golfing,” he said. “The problem is after golf they come back, they have pops. This is the problem.”

This statement certainly caught Mr. Barber’s attention.

“The political class is constantly telling us to follow the science,” Barber said. “Yet the Prime Minister is proposing a policy that has absolutely nothing to do with science.

“It’s an anecdotal story he tells about how his buddies go golfing and have a beer afterwards. If that’s what drives his policy, then it’s a joke…it makes absolutely no scientific sense. Zero.”

Former PGA Tour player Ian Leggatt, of Cambridge, Ont., took to Twitter to express his displeasure with the Premier.

“[Mr. Ford] is an embarrassment to Ontario and its golf community,” tweeted Leggatt, general manager of St George’s Golf and Country Club in Toronto, which was to host the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open for the past two years before it was canceled.

“Maybe stay away from the ‘pops’ before you hit the mic next time!”

Like many Ontario golfers, Herb Page has also circled June 2 on his calendar, but for a different reason.

A native of Markham and a member of the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame, Mr. Page is now the owner/manager of Windmill Lakes Golf Course in Ravenna, Ohio.

On June 2, Ohio will end all COVID-19 health orders, showing how different things are in the United States and Canada.

“I don’t know if it’s the right thing, hopefully we don’t have a rebound,” the longtime Kent State University golf coach said. “I can still keep the plexiglass that we have, I will talk to my employees and meet our people and see what I will do.

“I have so much empathy for Ontarians who own and operate these golf courses. I can’t imagine the economic hardship right now for all golf professionals, all golf courses, all jobs. I’ll tell you, I can’t think of a safer and better place than on a golf course.

The pandemic prevented Mr. Page from returning to Ontario. He last saw his family in December 2019.

“I haven’t seen my sister, brother, nieces and nephews since,” said Page, who was inducted into the Canadian Golf Hall of Fame that same year. “It’s sad, I really miss them a lot.”

Many perceive golf as an elite sport, but Mr Barber said nothing could be further from the truth. “Are there any private clubs where it costs a lot of money to join? Yes, absolutely,” he said. “But they are in the minority.

“I invite people to come and spend 10 minutes at The Landings Golf Course in Kingston to understand that golf is actually played by the public, that the vast majority of people who play are not 1 per center but people who go out to the golf course with their children. Seniors who just got out for a little exercise, guys after a long day on the construction site who come just to have a good time. That’s where the growth has been in golf in recent years, that’s the vast majority.

Mr Page, who has coached Canada’s top touring pros Corey Conners, Mackenzie Hughes and Taylor Pendrith at Kent State, has steered his course in 2020 with new rules in place. The facility’s restaurant and snack bar only opened in May, employees wore masks, there were no rakes in the sand traps, ball washers were not available and the pins remained in place at all times.

He said not only were golfers following the rules, but no positive tests had been recorded on the course – in a state with the eighth highest number of COVID-19 cases in the US, Mr Page was not forced to lay off any of its employees.

“I had the busiest year in 42 years here,” he said. “People couldn’t go to baseball games, they couldn’t go to concerts, they couldn’t go to plays, the only thing they could do was play golf.

“We had golfers we hadn’t seen in years. The pandemic has brought back many people we had lost to golf. Now, I’m not trying to be a doctor, but it just doesn’t make sense to shut down the outside where people can social distance and still wear their masks.

The harsh reality is that golf courses need revenue to survive. But Barber understands his industry isn’t the only one struggling.

“Restaurants are struggling and I can’t imagine owning a clothing store,” he said. “I have a pro shop full of merchandise and no customers to sell it to.

“I can’t imagine if that was my only business.”

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