Gov. Jim Justice addressed our state twice since Saturday with updates on the ever-changing landscape in the battle against COVID-19.
If you used social media since, you probably know that neither address was received well by everyone.
Now, I’m about the least political person you know. I haven’t voted in 17 years and I’m of an extremely rare and dying breed — a person who prefers to hear both sides of an issue before forming an opinion and one that doesn’t follow party lines.
But while there were plenty of things to criticize Big Jim about, I’m going to have to back him about one.
Early in his speech on Monday afternoon, Justice made the announcement that the state would go under a “stay-at-home order,” which also closed non-essential businesses, but that streams, trails and golf courses would remain open. The contrasting nature of the statement fueled jokes and memes that are still flooding walls and feeds.
Some pointed to the fact that Justice has a bit of an interest in a certain resort in White Sulphur Springs that happens to have a few golf courses on its property. Fine. It’s a valid point, though I’m not here to speculate on the governor’s possible deeper motives.
But in terms of putting our population in greater jeopardy? Experts agree that while extra precautions are necessary, golfing can still be a safe venture.
In a story entitled “You can still Golf During the Coronavirus — Just Rake the Bunkers with Your Feet,” which appeared in The Wall Street Journal on March 19, Amesh A. Adalja, a senior scholar at Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security, spoke on the issue.
“I believe that adequate social distancing can be performed with golfing,” he said. “If people can remain six feet apart and not touch common surfaces, the game is likely safe.”
Dr. Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, told Golfworld that playing golf as it normally is played “would be fairly safe.”
“You’re not in contact with a whole lot of other people,” she told the website, “and it’s not like basketball where you’re touching and very close to other players, so you could maintain several feet of distance between people.”
I have been golfing twice in the last week. I’ve also survived two trips to the grocery store in that time. If I were to be diagnosed with coronavirus, it would much more likely be from holding a box of crackers in a crowded check-out line than my own golf clubs on an open fairway.
In addition to striving to stay healthy as best we can, we all are yearning for a bit of normalcy as well.
Sports have always provided that. They are a part of the fabric of our species dating back as far as recorded history goes.
But normal is a relative term for all of us. My fiancée probably couldn’t pick Rory McIlroy, Kevin Durant and Mike Trout in a lineup of three photos. Her normal is in nature, whether on a drive or in her own garden.
It’s here that the lines cross, however. I’ll never make it to the PGA Tour. In fact, I hesitate to even call myself a golfer — more like a guy that swings hard and hopes for the best.
I never really judge a round by the score I shoot, or the shots I made. I rarely if ever go by myself.
You won’t see many sports being played with ongoing conversations between competitors. In between every shot on the golf course, however, conversations range from wives, fiancees and girlfriends to jobs, beer and life itself.
I played with two friends on Sunday at Sugarwood Golf Course in Lavalette and we hadn’t made it to the second green before the conversation turned to how good it felt just to be out. Out of the house. Out of quarantine. In the company of one another.
Last week, I wrote a couple of different pieces describing the extra safety precautions golf courses in the area were taking to minimize the risk of the coronavirus spreading. On Sunday, nobody in our three-man group ever touched a flag stick. There was hand sanitizer in the cart. No high fives were given. No customary post-round handshake. No beverages in the clubhouse.
But there were several groups, just like ours, of people enjoying the outdoors and the few hours of normalcy that the golf course brings, and all were doing so as safely as possible.
For folks that don’t play, I can understand the skepticism that comes along with Justice’s decision to include golf courses in the businesses that will continue operation, at least for now.
Last year, I wrote a series of pieces that described the concern in the golf community, especially within the Mountain State, concerning falling participation numbers and the closing of golf courses within the last five years.
But now, as we have entered a global pandemic the likes of which we couldn’t have imagined, maybe we need golf more than ever, and it has little to do with playing the sport itself.
It’s a way to safely connect with one another at a time when most other options are no longer available.
And if golf has never been your cup of tea, I encourage you to take another sip and, maybe, you’ll find out what those of us who are passionate about the sport have known all along.
Because time spent in an herb garden or on a well-manicured tee box is time well spent. Especially if it takes us back to a time, not so long ago, when life felt normal.