A California mayor defends golf as an essential outdoor activity

May 05, 2020

As the mayor of Oceanside, a coastal city of 176,000 in northern San Diego County, I jumped at the chance to play golf the morning of March 30. It was a no-brainer. Our city staff had gotten word that the county health officer was going to shut down the four golf courses in our city by the end of the day. Gavin Newsom, the governor of California, had put out a stay-at-home directive 11 days earlier. Some courses closed, others stayed opened, and we were among the last of the holdouts.

That last weekend, our courses—one municipal, two executive layouts and a higher-end public course—were all packed with golfers desperate for someplace to play. I had met with the city manager and the city attorney, and we decided that unless we were absolutely told to close this stuff, we were going to keep it open. Why wouldn’t we? We wanted to give people an opportunity to get out and support local businesses. To me, playing golf didn’t look any different than throwing the ball with your kid at the park.

I played on the Friday before that Monday, and I thought it was a better and safer environment than going to the grocery store. So, on that Monday, knowing that it might be weeks or months before I played another round, I hurried out to our higher-end course, Arrowood, at the invitation of the general manager.

It was such an enjoyable afternoon. I told myself that if this was going to be the last round I played for a while, I wasn’t going to get frustrated. It was memorable for one hilarious reason. As we approached the 18th green, I hear a splash. Our city attorney’s cart was on the side of the bank. The brake didn’t lock, and the cart drifted backward into the lake! He’s screaming and running toward it, and I’m trying to stick my club into the wheels to stop it. He’s yelling, “Get my clubs!” So he jumps into the lake up to his knees to get them! It was great.

I didn’t have any qualms about playing. When you’re in the position I’m in, you see the different things going on. We’re struggling with what to do with the homeless … struggling with concerns about city staff testing positive for the virus … we’re tracking information and doing the protocols. Honestly, being out there on the course, it was a relief. It was 4½ hours when I didn’t have to think about this stuff, and it all felt very safe.

When we were keeping the courses open, I was getting emails from people outraged that the city of Oceanside was disobeying the stay-at-home orders. Part of those orders was that you could still get out and exercise, and I considered a golf course to be as essential as a park. It was interesting that the same people who were screaming bloody murder about keeping the golf course open were probably the same ones going to Costco, Walmart and anything else. The amount of people who are concerned about what others are doing surprised me.

It’s an interesting dilemma. You look at the graphs and the models, and you’re trying to flatten the curve so that this doesn’t overwhelm the healthcare system. I get that. But you’re extending the economic impact this has on people, delaying the economic recovery. The people who work at the golf courses, the guys in the golf shop or the cart girls, they aren’t making $100,000 a year. They need to get back to work.

I worry about the impact of not being outside, not getting exercise, that not playing golf is having on people. I have an older neighbor who is a golfer. He’s been cooped up since all of this started. He would absolutely love to get back out there. Essentially, it’s his entire social life.

We need to get back to normal life. Now, I think there is going to be a “new” normal. But we’d like to get back to going to the golf course, going to the beach, going surfing, and not keep everyone sitting at home, panicked and paranoid. —with Tod Leonard

Editor’s Note: Golf in Oceanside and other San Diego County courses re-opened for play, with restrictions, on Friday, May 1. Peter Weiss played that day at Goat Hill Park, the Oceanside course operated by golf clothing entrepreneur John Ashworth.

Peter Weiss is mayor of Oceanside, Calif., a job he’s held since 2018.