The worldwide coronavirus pandemic and its resulting restrictions have quickly led to one of the most heated golf debates in the history of the game in this country: Should Victorians be allowed to play golf?
Social media platforms have been awash with passionate punters and sportspeople arguing for or against the reopening of Victorian golf clubs ever since April 1st – which was when almost every other Australian state or territory (bar the Northern Territory) decided to bypass Golf Australia’s message to close all courses "until further notice".
In fact, just one day after our nation's governing body issued its advice, the NSW State Government had already declared: “Golf is considered an activity that can continue to be played in line with Public Health Orders relating to public gathering limits, social distancing and the elderly.”
Several precautionary measures were quickly introduced across the nation to try and limit the possible spread of the virus, including the removal of rakes in bunkers and the addition of raised holes.
Victorian premier Daniel Andrews, however, concluded golf wasn’t an 'essential activity' and closed the state’s courses and facilities under ‘stage three’ coronavirus restrictions, despite his own love of the game.
“There are opportunities for some of those recreational activities that people are not able to partake in, maybe we can change some of those rules … But I don't want to speculate too much.” – Daniel Andrews
“No one likes playing golf more than I do, no one. You don't need to play golf. You might want to play golf, but you don't need to play golf,” Mr Andrews said earlier this month.
“I know I'm asking a lot of Victorians. I'm asking them to not partake in the things that they are passionate about, the things that they love. Everyone has got loved ones, too, and we've got to protect them. And no round of golf is worth someone dying.”
There have now been 1,329 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Victoria and 15 deaths as of April 20.
But with just one new case overnight, Mr Andrews today gave the earliest sign that “recreational activities” could soon return to The Garden State.
“There are opportunities for some of those recreational activities that people are not able to partake in, maybe we can change some of those rules … But I don't want to speculate too much,” Mr Andrews said this morning.
“These numbers are not an invitation for us to simply remove all the rules. They're a validation our strategy is working. It is challenging but it is working."
All of which must be welcome news for former AFL player Sam Newman, who last week marched to the steps of Victoria’s Parliament House – golf bag in hand – to protest the game’s continued shutdown.
The 74-year-old has taken to Twitter to ask why Australians in New South Wales, Queensland, Western Australia, South Australia, Tasmania and the ACT are allowed to play golf as part of their government-mandated exercise – but Victorians (and people living in the Northern Territory) are not.
Newman has received support from golfers and non-golfers alike – such as cricket legend Shane Warne – for his stance and represents large portions of his home-state’s golfing population.
Interesting debate about golf courses & whether they should be open or not. I’m like all Victorian’s & doing the right thing by staying home - unless it’s necessary re supermarket. But I see 1000’s of people out exercising/waking - isn’t that golf & good for mental health too ?— Shane Warne (@ShaneWarne) April 19, 2020
The people petitioning for Victorian golf clubs to reopen their gates seemingly understand the game’s benefits for mental health – and are of the belief that it is safer than many essential activities such as grocery shopping. Most are also concerned about the state’s golf clubs and their ability to survive such extended periods of closure.
But there are plenty of prominent members of the Australian golf community who agree with Mr Andrews’ belief that playing golf simply doesn’t warrant the risk of fuelling the coronavirus outbreak.
It’s a terrible look for a sport perceived by many non-participants as ‘elite’ and ‘elitist’ to be still going on when the rest are told to stay at home.— Mike Clayton (@mikeclaytongolf) April 5, 2020
One such person is former Touring pro turned course architect Mike Clayton, who believes: "It's a terrible look for a sport perceived by many non-participants as 'elite' and 'elitist' to be still going on when the rest are told to stay at home."
No matter your stance on the issue, or your thoughts on some of the key players involved, you have to admire the passion shown from both sides of the argument.
Watch this space.