“To golf or not to golf” by Martin Vousden

Thought for the Day
Opportunities don’t happen, you create them.

If nothing else, the coronavirus pandemic has caused us to perhaps reflect on the magnificent triviality that is golf – and taught us new words and phrases, such as ‘pandemic,’ ‘social isolation’ and ‘where are the toilet rolls?’* The things we considered important just a few short weeks ago are now seen to be irrelevant when considered in the wider context of a global infection causing people around the world to fall ill and, in far too many instances, succumb.

Like every other sport, or activity in which people gather together, golf has been put on the back burner. And although it is entirely appropriate that events such as the Masters be postponed or cancelled, what of the club golfer, who chooses to play alone, interacting with no-one but the course and his or her own thoughts and frustrations?

In the last few days, I have debated with a journalist friend and colleague the merits or otherwise of staying put or striding the fairways. My argument was that if we played alone and did not touch the flagstick, with all clubhouses being closed and therefore contact with others impossible, what harm could be done? We are, after all, being urged to take exercise at least once a day. My club secretary is quite happy for me to walk my dogs on the course (always assuming I pick up their mess) so what what’s the problem if I do so sans dogs but with a bag of clubs?

My colleague, however, won me over with his counter-argument which, while being rather simplistic (he is, after all, a journalist), is nevertheless valid. First, he points out that we have all been told by our government that we should stay indoors unless absolutely necessary – and as much as I enjoy and need to play golf, I cannot, in all conscience, describe my participation as being essential to my physical or mental wellbeing. Even if I disagree with my government’s advice, (which I don’t), I do not have the right to flout it.

Second, if someone drives past my golf course and sees me strolling along, no doubt whistling a merry tune, what sort of message does it give to the rest of the world in general, and golfers in particular? Can I be sure that if another club member spots me, he won’t be encouraged to play 18 holes, perhaps suggesting to a friend or two that they might join him? Or, less controversially, perhaps, if a father and son, or any other couple sharing the same living quarters, decide that a round of golf would be safe, having seen the example set by me.

Perceptions are important, and if the perception I give is that playing golf is okay, it might well lead to others thinking the same, without, perhaps, my determination to play on my own, or lacking my fastidiousness in not touching the flagstick, for example. And, to the wider public the message might simply be that golf, and golfers, consider themselves to be above the law, or not subject to the constraints under which they must all operate. It raises the question: Am I my brother’s keeper, or responsible for the way in which he interprets my actions, or tries to replicate them? The answer has to be: Yes, right now, I am. It doesn’t matter that I might take every precaution and neither pose nor subject myself to any risk of infection. There is no way that I can ensure that he, and others like him, will not simply think: ‘It’s okay to play golf then,’ and behave exactly as they would have done, or in only a slightly modified way, before this pandemic arrived.

We are seeing a great deal of evidence that people are acting responsibly, taking government guidance to heart and, despite the severe limitations on their daily lives, acting as good citizens.

Sadly, those efforts are undermined by the self-interested or stupid few who regard social responsibility as something that does not apply to them and is only for others to heed. I hope I would not be counted among their number and urge you to do the same.

*Incidentally, if you had asked me at the beginning of the month to list the things I considered most essential to my wellbeing, toilet paper wouldn’t have been on the first page, let alone at the top of the list. Don’t people read newspapers any more? Or here’s a radical thought, why not follow the example of a third of the world population and use soap and water.

Quote of the Week
Really, it speaks to how boring my life is that I’m not giving up this thing that causes me such misery. Nothing else interests me like golf. Nothing. I think golf is literally an addiction. I’m surprised there’s not a Golf Anonymous
Larry David

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