Under the category of Things That Don't Matter Much, allow me to make a submission.
It could be titled, "Golf in the Era of the Coronavirus."
A trifling matter in a time of great importance.
And let's get the full disclosure out of the way, just so we're clear: I play golf, passionately, as often as I can. So read what I've written with the knowledge I might be a little, or a lot, biased.
Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz should heed calls to allow the state's golf courses to open, even under the current #StayHomeMN campaign meant to suppress the spread of the coronavirus.
Consider it a way to allow a tiny slice of normalcy for a small percentage of the population during these decidedly not normal times. A tiny slice, yes, but for the people who play golf the opportunity to take part in their chosen activity in these unprecedented and stressful times is important.
I've written and re-written this blog no fewer than six times, owing mostly to the fact I'm not sure advocating for the opening of golf courses is all that appropriate given the circumstances.
I had 500 words written this morning and deleted them after reading Grand Forks Herald outdoors writer Brad Dokken's excellent column supporting the closure of boat ramps on the Rainy River, a popular location to catch spring walleyes, due to the coronavirus scare. I applied Brad's logic to my words — and his logic won.
But I can't get over the idea that as long as Walz is supportive of outdoors activities -- state and local parks remain open -- why shouldn't he support golf?
The kicker for me is fishing, an activity that for most requires travel within the state and will likely be done with others even if they remain the recommended six feet apart. If fishing is on the approved list, golf should be, too.
(Full disclosure, Chapter 2: I am an avid and passionate fisherman, too.)
Walz should allow courses to open with the appropriate restrictions including social distancing, bans on large groups and the continued closing of bars and restaurants.
This isn't about getting the gang together for 18 holes and beers afterward (or during). It's about, as the game has been called, a good walk spoiled.
It's a difficult call. Minnesota is saying “all persons currently living within the state of Minnesota are ordered to stay at home or in their place of residence” except for essential work or to buy supplies.
But, as we've said, walking, hiking, running, biking, driving for pleasure, hunting and fishing are allowed.
On one hand, we're supposed to stay home.
On the other, it's OK to not stay home.
It's a mixed message, albeit in a remarkably difficult time.
The goal of Walz's executive order is to limit contact among us to slow the spread of the virus.
So an order allowing golf should be easy enough. Golf courses could be allowed to open if:
- Groups are limited to no more than two or three golfers to speed the pace of play and avoid backups on tee boxes.
- Tee times are spaced a minimum of 15 minutes apart to maintain distance between golfers.
- Golfers maintain six feet of distance between them at all times.
- Only walking is allowed, no carts (in which players would have to sit within inches of each other).
- Golfers don't take out the flags on greens so as to avoid touching the pin, or they even aren't allowed to putt the ball into the cup. Maybe every ball within 6 feet of the hole could be a "gimme."
- Clubhouses, pro shops, restaurants, bars and locker rooms are not allowed to be open. Only restrooms would be allowed.
- Green fees must be paid electronically online, so people don't congregate in pro shops.
- Driving ranges are not open.
It would be far from perfect, but such are the times in which we're living.
The idea is to give those who like to play golf an outlet to get outside, exercise and relieve stress — just as the governor is doing with fishermen, hunters, bicyclists and joggers.
It would also help golf courses economically by getting some cash flow, even if they were operating at a reduced capacity.
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Allowing courses to open across the state would also discourage golfers from traveling long distances, even across state lines, to play. One could argue that would help slow the virus' spread.
Walz and his administration have been getting overtures from the golf industry and the Minnesota Golf Association to open the courses as we hurtle into spring. Some courses in the Twin Cities area were already open prior to the coronavirus-induced changes.
"We were disappointed that golf was not addressed in the recent executive order and continue to seek clarification from the Governor’s office ... whether playing golf is a permissible outdoors activity, as it is considered such in eleven other states with similar executive orders," the MGA said in a statement emailed to its members.
It appears the governor is considering a way to make it happen, to his credit.
"I will assure people this, we are still discussing this," Walz told the media Friday, March 27. "Candidly, my approach was I'm encouraging people to do healthy things. I make the argument with my team -- I'll listen to the health experts on this — if there is the potential to be able to allow people to pay online to get out there and be able to do this, we'll explore that."
In Moorhead, city-owned courses Village Green Golf Course and the Meadows are not ready to open because they are still partially covered in snow. It's likely to be at least a couple of weeks before the courses would be ready for play.
"We are preparing to open the minute we are allowed," recreation director Holly Heitkamp said.
She said golf professionals Russ Nelson at Village Green and Jay Haug at the Meadows will be working in their respective pro shops, but the buildings are closed to the public.
Across the Red River in North Dakota, where no such stay-at-home orders are in place yet, Fargo Park District director Dave Leker said it will be "several weeks" before the city's public courses could open given the weather. Leker said the park district will monitor golf courses in the region to see how they are handling the coronavirus situation in that time.
"It is the view of the MGA and its allied industry associations that golf can be played at a safe social distance outdoors and that it affords economic, social, spiritual and mental health benefits vital to the health and well-being of the Minnesota residents who call themselves golfers," the MGA said in its statement.
It is not THE most important thing. But to tens of thousands it is ONE important thing. And, frankly, if Walz and Gov. Doug Burgum in North Dakota decide to not allow golf courses to open ... so be it. No big deal. We'll all survive just fine until better times.
But if there's a way to allow courses to open safely, giving a small portion of the population a reprieve from reality for even a couple of hours, they should do that.