Golf in the time of coronavirus

As always, the world feels a little safer on the golf course.

Image of golf gals at Raccoon Creek

At Raccoon Creek in Littleton, Colo., it’s easy to enjoy golf with a friend, even when she’s six feet away.

My title is a riff on Love in the Time of Cholera, one of my favorite books, which I recommend you read when you’ve exhausted the Netflix archives and are looking for something to do at home. It’s not a far-fetched riff. Cholera, like coronavirus, changed its world. Golf, like love, can be both wonderful and maddening. And for me, golf, like love, provides comfort during stressful, scary times.

And so, I golf. Here in Colorado, many municipalities closed golf courses last month out of fear that they would spread the virus. One of them even sent home all its maintenance workers — people who routinely work alone and many yards apart. Wow, can’t wait to see those courses when they finally open after not being cared for all spring.

NOW JUST YOU WAIT A MINUTE!

Those courses soon learned they jumped the gun. Our governor’s subsequent stay-at-home order declared exercise essential in this state full of hikers, cyclists, skiers and climbers. Playgrounds were closed, as were soccer fields and basketball courts. Otherwise, however, we were encouraged to get out and play, while observing a social distance of at least six feet from anyone not in our household. And the more we learn about the virus, the safer it feels to be outside, where the breeze and sunshine dissipate the droplets we exhale.

A few Denver-area golf course owners sought clarification about the governor’s order and decided they could safely remain open. Last week, I played twice at Littleton’s Deer Creek Golf Club, a really fun course for short hitters because the forward tees are not quite 4,800 yards. The creek wreaks havoc on the front nine, while the back nine winds through a residential community.

The first time I played after the order, it was business as usual except that walking, usually rare there because green fees include a cart, was encouraged (and discounted) and the 19th hole wasn’t open for eating in.

By the second time, a makeshift check-in desk was set up at the door to the pro shop, which was closed, and carts were only available for single riders (or two people in the same household) for as long as they lasted.

By the third time, the staff wore masks and the holes had been turned upside-down so that players would not have to reach in and touch the flagstick.

THANK YOU, THANK YOU, THANK YOU!

It was just so good to be outdoors, escaping the news for a few precious hours and finding that we could socialize as usual with nice strangers even when we were all staying six feet apart. We cared less about how we played, grateful that we were simply allowed to play.

Sunday, I played Raccoon Creek Golf Course, also in Littleton, for the first time because it — like Deer Creek, the Links at Highlands Ranch, Riverdale Dunes and TPC Colorado — had taken measures to protect the health of players and staff. I’d heard a lot of women praise Raccoon Creek, and now I can see why: It’s a fun, walkable layout from the reds at about 5,100 yards, with lots of pretty lakes and mountain views. Raccoon Creek isn’t renting out carts of any kind right now, and its gorgeous new clubhouse is closed but for the bathrooms. Players have to pay in advance, online or by phone, and the starter has an entire corral set up so that he’s six feet away from the players. But, as with the other open courses, the tee sheets are full every day of grateful golfers, all of them walking, smoothing out bunkers with their feet rather than rakes, and giving others a wide berth.

We golfers love our 19th hole, and I noticed a lot of guys having their beers on the clubhouse lawn, a little too close together. Our new ritual is to bring a snack or lunch and a bottle of wine (screw cap preferred), to be enjoyed out of the trunk or at a scenic spot nearby.

It occurred to me Sunday, teeing off on 18, that it might seem frivolous and even, somehow, sacrilegious to take such pleasure in a game that doctors would much prefer right now to the agony of the hospital. I gave the medical community a mental salute, and then thought about the folks at the golf course that are able to take home paychecks because their owners took measures to keep everyone there safe. I’m happy to be able to support them.

Ultimately, I took solace in the semblance of normalcy manifested by 18 holes of golf in the time of coronavirus. So today, it’s off to play the Links at Highlands Ranch.

POSTSCRIPT: DON’T BE LIKE THIS GUY!

I had an unfortunate experience at the Links, so I’m adding this little epilogue. After the front nine, the father and son we were playing with dropped out, and the course sent two single players to meet us at the 10th tee. One of them was coughing all the way from the clubhouse to the tee box!

My friend and I looked at each other aghast. I pretended to have forgotten something, and we sent them on ahead while I went to the pro shop to explain why we were not going to play with that man.

Sometimes it feels like there are too many rules in golf. But there is one rule you absolutely should observe right now, and probably long into the distant future: Don’t go to the golf course if you’re sick! If you know allergies are the problem, take your meds and announce that your companions need not worry.

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