The new restrictions were announced Friday but the provincial government, facing a torrent of criticism, backtracked on the deployment of police to enforce stay-at-home orders and prohibitions on playground use.
Golf operators are demanding a similar lifting of restrictions for golf courses.
“I’m not sure who he’s listening to,” Orchard View Golf Course owner Isaac Friesen said of Ford. “When you listen to some of the doctors on social media, they are saying … there is a greater health hazard for people to be inside rather than outside. So, what are we doing not letting people outside?“
“When his doctor consultants all basically say he did this wrong, how do you continue with that? I don’t understand it.”
We Are Golf, an umbrella group representing golf organizations across Canada and Ontario, including Golf Canada, the CPGA, club managers and course superintendents, sent a statement to members asking them to voice their displeasure with local MPPs.
“As the No. 1 participation sport in Ontario, in 2020 alone there were well over 20 million rounds of golf played by over 1.8 million golfers in Ontario with ZERO known cases of COVID transmission at a golf course. The data is clear,” the statement said.
It said golf naturally encourages social distancing, that Ontario courses have been rigorous in the adoption of “safe protocols” to blunt the spread of the virus and that golf has physical- and mental-health benefits.
Dr. Isaac Bogoch, a frequently quoted infectious disease expert from Toronto, said in a recent Twitter post that the chances of catching the virus playing an outdoor sport like golf were insignificant.
“Outdoor activities are vital for mental & physical health, especially with stay-at-home orders. Science is clear: Outdoor COVID transmission is extremely rare,” he said.
Many in the scientific community — including medical experts who advise Ford — say the restrictions announced Friday were misplaced and should have included provisions for paid sick leaves to encourage ill workers to stay at home.
The experts have also said the provincial government should have targeted at-risk workers in ‘hot spot” workplaces and supplied those workers with vaccines to slow the spread of the disease.
Doug Quick, general manager of the Kingsville Golf and Country Club, said Ontario is now the only jurisdiction in Canada and the United States that prohibits golf. He said the prohibition comes when golfers are itching to play after a long winter.
“Even on the less-than-desirable weather days (this year), we were very busy,” Quick said.
At the start of last year, the Kingsville golf course had a membership of 547. It now stands at 624, an increase of 14 per cent. The club has a waiting list, something it hasn’t had in years. Much of that increase, Quick said, was attributable to COVID-19 and the lack of outdoor sporting options.
Quick predicted Ford would resist pressure to reopen golf courses in the near term because of the political damage caused by pulling back on another restriction too soon. “(Ford) is going to be under a lot of pressure, a lot.”
Quick felt golf courses — there are more than 800 in Ontario — would open May 1. The current restrictions are in place until at least May 20.
Mike Kelly, executive director of Golf Ontario, issued a video statement Monday asking the Ontario government to examine the scientific evidence and the precautions taken by the golf industry last year to keep golfers safe.
“To the Ontario government, I’m also asking you to heed the clear evidence — golf is safe. All of us proved that in 2020 and again in 2021…. The science is clear, outdoor transmission is very rare.”
Kelly said golf courses in Ontario will absorb this blow and thrive once the province lifts its ban. He said golf enjoyed a surge in popularity in 2020 and that trend will continue into 2021.
“If 2020 taught us anything, golf is extremely well-positioned right now. The demand for golf, the increase in the number of rounds played, scores posted and the general spike in demand we saw last year is only getting stronger,” he said.
According to figures published by We Are Golf, golf in Canada generated $18.2 billion in economic benefits in 2019, a figure now higher given the upsurge in interest last year. The industry also employed 150,000 full-time employees in 2019.
Tennis court shutdown called ‘silly’
Tennis players are another group critical of the restrictions on certain outdoor sports.
“Closing Ontario’s outdoor recreational spaces including tennis courts is only driving people to congregate indoors and is not a solution to the problem,” read a petition on Change.org. “Many epidemiologists and doctors working at the frontline are seeing firsthand that COVID patients contracted the virus through heavy indoor transmission. Outdoor transmission is extremely rare!
“People’s mental and physical health are at high risk after a year-long combat with the pandemic. Open outdoor tennis courts! This is one of the safest places people can exercise.”
Agnes Ferguson, who organizes league play and tournaments at the Kingsville tennis club, said the restrictions on tennis are “silly” and should be lifted.
She said the guidelines issued by the province when tennis play resumed in Ontario last spring were followed by tennis clubs and remain sufficient to prevent the spread of the virus. The guidelines dealt with social distancing, the number of players that could play on a court, hand sanitizing and limiting the number of balls that could be used per court.