Makeshift golf courses spring up as frustration mounts over provincial government ban

KINGSVILLE — Unlike many Ontario golfers, Jim and his pals are getting a mulligan or do-over: They’re playing the sport they love on an acreage in front of Jim’s rural home near Kingsville — despite the provincial ban.

Four holes have been set up on the acreage, with traffic cones substituting for flags, and each hole is played three times to complete a 12-hole round of golf.

“We played last year during the pandemic and called it the Pandemic Open,” said one of Jim’s golf companions.

Jim and the four friends playing over the weekend wanted to remain anonymous out of fear of a visit from police.

“All I want to say is this,” Jim said. “The Ontario Medical Association suggested that golf courses and outdoor recreation should be open. I don’t know what medical experts (Premier Doug Ford) is listening to.”

Pop-up golf courses are being set up all over the province. During a recent drive between Peterborough and Campbellford at least two impromptu courses were seen along Highway 7 on rural properties. One was near an empty golf course.

What is doubly vexing for many golfers was Ford’s comments last week justifying his decision not to lift the ban.

“I talked to my buddies,” Ford told a news conference. “I know what happens. You know, they pick up another buddy, two or three, they go out golfing and there’s nothing wrong with golfing, the problem is the mobility. Then after golf they go back, they have a few pops. That’s the problem. That’s the issue.”

At the Kingsville Golf and Country Club, golfers were questioned before parking their cars whether they had any COVID symptoms, had been in contact with someone with COVID and if they had recently been out of the country. The outdoor beer patio set up outside the clubhouse had chairs set six feet apart. Sand trap rakes and benches were removed. Rangers monitored social distancing guidelines and clear plastic dividers were installed on the golf carts.

“People are getting really, really upset,” said Kingsville golf course general manager Doug Quick. “This week’s weather just gets better and better. So, I don’t know. (Doug Ford) is going to have an issue if he continues with this. I don’t know why you can’t allow outdoor sports. I don’t know why tennis can’t go, I don’t know why soccer can’t go, I really don’t.”

Quick said course superintendent Paul Lemieux is making use of the unwanted downtime.

Greens and fairways still need to be cut and work is being done installing Astroturf on the driving range, installing new drainage and laying down grass seed. Work is also being done on a new concrete patio.

Quick said the course is in wonderful shape.“I was out there the other day. It looks beautiful … (Lemieux) has done a nice job … and there’s no divots, there are no ball marks.”

The Kingsville golf course is luckier than many because a large segment of its revenue stream is from memberships fees.

Other golf courses, like Deer Run near Chatham, are not so lucky. Its revenues are strictly pay-as-you-play green fees.

“We rely on day-to-day sales,” said owner Larissa LeGros-Vellinga.

Like Quick, she can’t understand why Ontario golf courses are closed.

“Does he have no trust in people?” she said of Ford. “In Toronto, in the parks, they draw circles and it’s OK to (sit) in these circles. You’re allowing them to do that but not allowing them to go on a golf course where they are spread out.”

Deer Run, located off Bloomfield Road, is a popular destination for Essex County golfers because of the easy access to Highway 401.

“We have 27 holes spread out over 3,300 acres and there is ample opportunity for people to be safe on our golf course,” LeGros-Vellinga said.

Ford’s ban on golf and other outdoor activities is now the subject of a parody site on Facebook.

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