In the movie, “The Legend of Bagger Vance,” residents of Savannah, Ga., welcome an exhibition golf match to their town as a way to ease the pain caused by the Great Depression.
In economic terms, there are some similarities between the Southern town of a century ago and our world today. Yet the residents of Savannah weren’t trying to slow the spread of a deadly disease. And if they were, it’s doubtful they would have considered golf a good remedy for what ailed them.
Which makes us wonder about a decision from the Pueblo Department of Public Health and Environment which allowed local golf courses to reopen this week.
“Outdoor exercise and activity are encouraged with appropriate social distancing and precautions when outdoors, including golfing,” Randy Evetts, the department’s director, explained when asked why golfing was allowed when restrictions have been placed on so many other aspects of everyday life.
Mayor Nick Gradisar drew quite a bit of criticism on social media after he announced plans to reopen the courses last week. And it’s easy to understand why.
Evetts said the golf courses would have to follow strict safety protocols, which include accepting reservations and payments online or by phone only and limiting golf cart use to one rider per cart, unless riders happen to be part of the same household.
Other precautions include inverting the cups on greens so golfers don’t have to reach into the holes to retrieve their balls.
Which sound like reasonable steps, although it’s hard to imagine how the cart riding rules will be enforced. DNA testing, perhaps? (How much exercise people actually are getting when they’re riding around in motorized vehicles is probably best left for a separate discussion.)
But, as so many of the mayor’s critics pointed out, reopening the golf courses raises a bigger question: Where do you draw the line?
If golfers are allowed to participate in their hobby of choice, there must be many people out there wondering why they can’t continue to follow their own interests, provided they take appropriate safety precautions.
Is the health department going to come up with lists of guidelines for people who want to play pickle ball or tube down the Arkansas River? It seems unlikely that public health officials would have time to develop coronavirus-safe rules for all the different pursuits Puebloans might wish to pursue.
That could lead to people making individual determinations about what’s safe and what isn’t. And given the number of “expert” medical opinions floating around on social media, it seems likely some people would make choices that put themselves and others at greater risk of contracting the virus.
Plus, opening up the golf courses now seems to undermine the seriousness of the situation. If this is a situation so dire that we need to take extraordinary measures like avoiding trips to local barber shops, then why is golfing OK?
More to the point, why did health officials take the time to develop rules that would make golfing OK when so many other activities remain off limits?
We understand that some people are going a little stir crazy. Getting outdoors is good. Exercising is good. We need to do those things to maintain our sanity.
What we fail to understand is how golfing got to the top of the pecking order of “essential” activities. Even the divinely protected Bagger Vance probably would sit this round out.