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Alberta golf industry lobbies to open courses amid COVID-19 pandemic


CALGARY — Some golf courses in British Columbia are open or about to open and Alberta golf clubs want to do the same despite the reluctance of provincial health officials to give the green light.

Winter loosening its grip on Alberta has the province's golf industry lobbying to let courses open with protocols and restrictions in place to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

"We for sure realize golf is not the most important thing in the world, but we want to be part of the solution," said Calgary's Barry Ehlert, owner of six courses in the Windmill Golf Group.

"We do think there are other things coming down the pipe at us like mental health, economic drivers, the forty-two thousand jobs that golf represents.

"We've thought this through and we believe that by following these different protocols, we do create an entirely safe and healthy environment that during the pandemic we could open our business."

The Alberta chapter of National Allied Golf Associations (NAGA) said in a recent letter to its members that "NAGA Alberta will be working closely with the Alberta Government in seeking an exception like the courses in B.C."

An online petition on calling for Alberta golf courses to be exempt from enforced business closures had almost 30,000 signatures as of Tuesday.

Alberta's chief medical officer of health wasn't ready to give the all-clear to golf, however.

"I know there are many people who deeply enjoy golfing and for whom it is a part of not just physical health, but mental health," Dr. Deena Hinshaw said Monday.

"Golf has been determined to be a non-essential service at this time and so it is impacted by our restrictions.

"I would say to golfers the same thing I would say to other Albertans, which is to trust we are looking very closely at our numbers, and that as we get to a point where we can think about easing restrictions, outdoor recreation is certainly on that list of things to be considered.

"But at this time, we're not yet at that point yet where we can start easing off."

Alberta reached 1,870 cases of COVID-19 infection on Tuesday with 914 recovered and 48 deaths.

B.C. had 1,517 confirmed cases, 942 recovered and 72 fatalities.

Albertans are currently prohibited from attending public recreation and private entertainment facilities, or gathering in groups larger than 15 people.

Many golf clubs in B.C. have voluntarily remained closed, but some courses are operating on the Lower Mainland, Vancouver Island and in the Okanagan.

Three were to open in the Kelowna area Wednesday.

Both Nova Scotia and New Brunswick specifically list golf courses as businesses that are not allowed to service patrons because of the pandemic.

Ontario, Manitoba and Saskatchewan were among provinces that effectively closed them by not including them among essential services.

Alberta's NAGA has put forward 37 recommendations it believes should satisfy public health authorities.

They include spacing out tee times, one rider per motorized cart unless the golfers live together, leaving flagsticks in the hole instead of removing them to putt, removing ball washers from the course, staff wearing protective gloves when handling cash or credit cards and the closure of sit-down bar and beverage services.

"The economy in our province is fragile and the mental health of Albertans is of grave concern and we feel that golf can answer many of these perils," the organization said in its letter.

"Annually, the golf industry proudly generates $2.4 billion to the Alberta economy while employing over 42,000 people."

The optics of people golfing while children can't go to playgrounds isn't comparable, according to Ehlert.

"Some recreational activities aren't monitored like walking, biking and running," he explained.

"The reason why kids can't go to parks is because of the transmission from touching the monkey bars and kids not understanding the importance of social distancing.

"Our protocols are such that people won't be touching the flagsticks, they won't be touching bunker rakes. There's not the opportunity to transmit the virus like there would be in other areas."

Ehlert said course owners would have people out on the links monitoring the protocols to ensure the rules are followed.

"If there was a business or an industry that does make sense, golf certainly does in our view."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published April 15, 2020

Donna Spencer, The Canadian Press