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New COVID-19 lockdown leaves Ontario golfers out in cold

April 26, 2021

Steve Russell

A surge of COVID-19 cases in Canada has left Ontario golfers in the cold. And some are fighting back.

In mid-April a new pandemic lockdown by the provincial government was announced, giving police temporary power to stop individuals to ask where they’re going and where they live. “The Stay-at-Home order currently in effect requires everyone to remain at home except for specified purposes, such as going to the grocery store or pharmacy, accessing health care services [including getting vaccinated], for outdoor exercise, or for work that cannot be done remotely,” a government statement says.

The Ontario government proceeded to close all outdoor recreational amenities including basketball courts, soccer fields, playgrounds and, yes, golf courses. The closing is schedule to be in place through at least May 20.

The sweeping decision has been criticized as an overcorrection by Ontario premier Doug Ford, whose administration is under fire for a number of shortcomings. Specific to golf, proponents of the sport can’t understand why their game—accepted as one of the safest activities to do during the pandemic—has been targeted.

The decision comes after Canada enjoyed a record number of rounds played in 2020, a surge widely credited as an upshot to the pandemic. Rick Young, who presides over the Golf Journalists Association of Canada, wrote an open letter to Ford earlier this month calling for a reversal of his decree.

“Across North America, at this moment, Ontario is the only province, state or territory not allowing the sport to be played,” Young wrote. “This despite more than 26 million recorded rounds by approximately 1.8 million of your constituents with next to zero reports of COVID-19 transmission last season or this season.”

Canadian golfers—who already lost the PGA Tour’s RBC Canadian Open for the second straight year— have been among the protesters of the edict, with a petition to overturn the golf lockdown receiving close to 100,000 signatures. “Golf is not the problem. It has to be part of the solution,” Mike Kelly, director of Golf Ontario, told Adam Stanley in a piece for the Toronto Star. “Golf is aligned naturally to physical distancing and there is no doubt it’s the safest outdoor recreation activity to be found at this time.”

Ontario native Brooke Henderson, who won the LPGA’s Hugel-Air Premia LA Open this weekend, also lent her support to the cause. “You know, I think golf is a great way to be outdoors and get some exercise, and it’s really unfortunate that they’re shut down right now,” Henderson said. “Hopefully they’ll open up sooner than later. It’s a great way to, like I said, get exercise, fresh air and also have a little bit of social by doing it pretty safely.”

However, hundreds of golfers decided to disobey the lockdown over the weekend, with the Bridges at Tillsonburg hosting a booked sheet on Saturday and Sunday. As of Monday morning its website has tee times available up to this Wednesday.

“We’re not trying to make a political statement. We’re just doing what we think is right,” co-owner Murray McLaughlin told the Windsor Star. “No comment is my official comment.”

Because there’s hope the government will reverse its decision, some of the sport’s proponents are upset with officials at the course, believing it will hurt their overall efforts. The We Are Golf group wrote a letter to Ford’s office apologizing for the incident.

“We are aware of the opening today of the Bridges at Tillsonburg golf course in contravention of government regulations. Please know the industry partners at Ontario’s We Are Golf do not, in any way, condone this action,” the letter read. “This incident with the Bridges at Tillsonburg is unfortunate. That said, our messaging remains the same. Golf is well-positioned to provide Ontarians with some much-needed outdoor exercise, mental stimulation and safe social time with family or friends.”

Still, Ford’s office has yet to signal such a reversal will happen, with his office explaining their mindset last Friday.

“The enhanced measures we introduced last week are aimed at limiting mobility,” a Ford spokesperson told the CBC. “Until we get this third wave under control, we need everyone to stay at home as much possible.”