Fore's a Crowd
Bloomberg Businessweek|May 18, 2020
Social distancing has always been part of golf, but the pandemic is pushing clubs to extremes.
Michael Croley

It was in the first week of May when I, deep in the grip of self-isolation, finally stole away late in the day for an emergency nine at the golf club near my home in Granville, Ohio.

The course fits right in with the Victorian quaintness of our little village: Its front nine, a Donald Ross design commissioned to accompany the construction of the Granville Inn in 1924, is a compact, enjoyable walk over mild hills with Ross’s signature back-to-front sloped greens. I ventured out that evening because I needed the air, and I needed the satisfaction of a good drive off the tee or a well-struck iron to feel some semblance of normal.

Governor Mike DeWine issued a stay-at-home order on March 16, but Ohio was one of the few states to keep courses open through much of its lockdown. Now that most courses are on track to reopen—Massachusetts was the last state to lift its ban on May 7—I got a look at our new reality.

Golf is one of the rare sports that by nature allows us to compete at a remove. You don’t have to share clubs or balls; if you’re alone, a round of golf just about qualifies as the very definition of social distancing. And yet, over the past two months, new rules to keep guests safe have become standardized quickly.

Most clubs are implementing a one-rider per-cart policy unless both live in the same household. On the course, there’s no touching of the flagstick, and barriers prevent putts from even falling into the cup—hitting the bumper counts as a hole. (Few are keeping serious score these days, anyway.) “In 35 years, I’ve never seen this much industrywide collaboration,” says David Pillsbury, chief executive officer of ClubCorp, which manages more than two hundred 18-hole courses.

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