Never mind the coronavirus. If you don’t keep your social distance at a driving range, with at least six feet of separation between you and other golfers, you invite a whole new set of health risks.
The state’s plan to gradually reopen businesses doesn’t account for the forced spacing of swinging golf clubs and the occasional errant ball. Massachusetts was one of the last states to allow golf courses to reopen when it released them from the COVID-19 lockdown two weeks ago. Driving ranges and putting greens were kept off-limits, however, and on the dark side of Gov. Charlie Baker’s emergency order.
That’s trapped local attractions such as Sarkisian Farms Driving Range and Ice Cream in Andover, and Whirlaway Running and Golf Center in Methuen. The ping of golf balls bouncing off drivers should be ringing out in those places over a long holiday weekend, in the song of golfers lured outside by beautiful weather. Ranges instead will be silent, their owners contemplating what could have been.
Reopening the state economy is both inexact science and one fraught with high stakes. It means weighing the urgent need to restart a host of industries against the risk of getting too many people together too quickly and creating pathways for the coronavirus to spread. But the plight of driving ranges also shows the importance of being flexible and responsive as we go.
As it stands, these businesses appear stymied by conditions put on golf courses. Perhaps they’ll be allowed to reopen with other outdoor recreation, such as batting cages and mini golf courses, now scheduled in the second round of the state’s four-phase reopening. That could begin in the next two to three weeks, or longer.
“This is crazy,” Whirlaway owner Mark Kazanjian told Eagle-Tribune sports editor Bill Burt. “This is simple for us — keeping people safe. People don’t have to touch anything, just put their credit card in the machine.
“We’re ready. The weather is perfect. People are ringing us off the hook,” he said. “They want to hit golf balls.”
To be sure, whacking away is no matter of life and death, and it’s comparably trivial in light of the tragedy that COVID-19 has caused for so many. But it isn’t mutually exclusive to limits urged by public health experts to protect ourselves, either.
The state’s advisory board did a tremendous job, on a compressed schedule, of imaging the many scenarios involved in returning people to their jobs and routines.
The state also should be willing to adjust its swing.