Colin Byrne: Hard to understand how golf has become the bogey man now
Oireachtas jamboree may have cost the club golfer who has been playing it by the book
Golfers wear masks while playing in Melbourne as some of the city’s three-month-old stay at home restrictions were further eased on falling Covid-19 infection rates. Photograph: William West/AFP via Getty Images
Let me describe how a game of golf evolves during a pandemic, or used to till the spoilsports made their decision on Wednesday. You get into your car, on your own, drive five kilometres or less to your golf club. You find a suitable parking spot and open the boot of your car, shuffle into your golf shoes and maybe nod a greeting to a passing golfer who you used to salute in the locker-room in the good old days. You then pop your clubs onto your caddy car and head to the first tee in perfect timing for your much coveted tee time. You have had no physical contact with another sinner or potential Covid spreader.
Your playing partners greet you from a sensible distance and off you all go into the great outdoors slashing and swiping in harmony with all the protocols for a very serious pandemic. You may find a greenside bunker on the first, no problem, very sensibly the authorities have negated the need to touch (and therefore potentially contaminate) a rake by removing them and allowing you to place your ball within six inches of where your ball originally came to rest.
You finally get the ball in the hole and you either scoop it out by using the cleverly designed Covid clasp which makes retrieval hands and Covid free or nudge it carefully from the raised cup enabling an utterly hands free golfing experience apart from your own personal equipment of course.
If you find a ball in the rough which you know is not yours, you agonisingly look longingly at it, particularly if it is an unblemished Titleist, but do the right thing and move on without it, because you are grateful to be al fresco with your mates in a time when you have needed the exercise, head-space and companionship more than ever, while endangering nobody.
When you have finished your game you rather strangely punch in your score on to the application on your phone, cleverly accelerated for life on the links during a serious health crisis, and so your score is recorded and received by the tireless competition volunteers who can safely log your performance without compromising the health of anyone else in the golf club.
Of course you would have loved to go into the clubhouse and have a coffee and a sandwich and discuss life or your perfectly flighted seven iron to the fourth hole, which you could have sworn actually spun backwards because you struck it better than you have ever done before in the many decades you have been hitting it. The sound, the trajectory and its imperviousness to the wind was something that could only be shared by those who witnessed it.
But you don’t linger on your prowess, you bid your partners farewell in the car park and head back home extremely grateful that you play one of the few games that lends itself to being continued safely even in a deadly pandemic.
That was the case until the baffling midweek decision, after much procrastination by the ditherers who of course must take the nation’s health in their responsible hands, that golf was to be treated the same as Gaelic games with 30 players on the pitch sweating and slobbering all over each other in the constant close contact of combat. Dangerous during a pandemic for sure, especially when you get to celebrate victories in a congested clubhouse after the game and quite possibly turn a sport into a super-spreading session.
But no common sense prevailed in the blanket ban for all sports, even those that clearly lend themselves to being played with minimal, if no risk during this Covid-19 nightmare. Tennis, of course, is another one that seems to have been dealt a harsh hand. But we are still not sure, I received a message from my club to say that the club was closed yesterday while they figure out the code on the directives. You never interact with your opponent, serve with your personal tennis balls and have zero contact with other people or objects and of course the game is also played outside.
I can’t help but wonder if that ill-fated Oireachtas golf jamboree out west had not taken place under such a murky cloud of controversy back in August would golf perhaps have been dealt a more measured hand. Is there a waft of notional elitism still lingering above the golf club locker-room that politicians now feel compelled to distance themselves from?
I understand that everyone has been compromised with the rampant spread of Covid-19. Some businesses, like delivery and supermarkets, have thrived during this pandemic, good for them.
There was a rejuvenation of golf over the past five months given that people had more time to avail of their memberships. Clubs offered post lockdown deals and new golfers responded. Professor Sam McConkey, the infectious disease specialist of the Royal College of Surgeons, was confident that golf was well suited to being one of the first sports to be opened up after the initial lockdown. I assume his opinion has not changed.
Although golf is not played in a bubble, it does lend itself to being played during a pandemic without compromising the health of the nation. Lumping it in with other contact sports that have more potential for compromising the nations health does not seem just or justifiable.