On February 13, there was a story in The Times under the encouraging headline ‘Round of golf once a month can reduce the risk of early death’. A 10-year study of 5,900 70+-year-olds in the United States found that golfers were more likely to see out another decade compared to non-players. One in seven who played golf died during the study; it was one in four for the others. The survey found it wasn’t just the benefit of the physical exercise; playing golf reduced stress.
Of course, February 13 was just over a month before year zero. In fact, golf in the age of coronavirus was only a compatible notion for a little over 72 hours. Last Friday afternoon, March 20, the government ordered that bars and restaurants had to be shut down until further notice. On Monday evening, the prime minister announced a further raft of measures which meant, amid the small print, it was inevitable that golf courses in the UK would have to close, too.
With hindsight it is a little ironic that on March 20 the Daily Telegraph had carried a piece about the suitability of certain sports in the prevailing medical environment. Regarding golf, it quoted thus a gentleman called John Oxford, a professor of virology: “If you’re carrying your own equipment, I don’t see any particular problem, unless you’re over-friendly with your playing partners.” He added: “Avoid the bar and any congregation at the beginning or end.”
At my club, the bar and dining room had already been closed but the course was open for play. I was there on Monday, playing on my own while my wife walked around with me. There were maybe 15 people on the course, plus a dog or two. It was the acme of social-distancing. But now it has to stop, which I am somewhat sad about but I am also realistic enough to realise it would never be a good look for a prime minister, I guess maybe especially a Tory one, effectively to make a public-health exception for golfers “provided you’re a member of a private club and can drive to the course in a car on your own rather than have to use public transport”. I do also understand that this inconvenience for me is hardly of a piece with the sacrifices being made by the heroes of our NHS.
Only time will tell how all this ends. (I am talking about the golf bit here, although a resolution to the coronavirus crisis is what we all desperately want.) Of course we club hackers all eagerly await the return of competitive golf on the professional tours. But nowhere close to as much as we want to be able to play our own games again. It sometimes used to be said that maybe Tiger Woods was bigger than golf itself. Right now, in my view he’s not even as big a deal as my golf. I’m sure you feel likewise.
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