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Bob Weeks

TSN Senior Reporter

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Canada’s two biggest golf provinces are set to allow courses to open in the coming days.

Quebec Premier Francois Legault announced Wednesday that the 320 golf facilities in his province will allow play as of May 20.

Ontario’s 800 golf courses will be given the green light to open this coming weekend, according to several sources. Reports indicate that Premier Doug Ford is expected to make the announcement on Thursday for a start as early as Saturday.

Nova Scotia remains the only province that hasn’t opened golf courses, although greens staff are permitted to groom the layouts and driving ranges are open. A start date is expected to be announced soon.

Course operators in Ontario and Quebec have been prepping their layouts for some time now and implementing a number of safety procedures ahead of the first tee times. These include longer intervals between groups, the removal of touch points such as flags, bunker rakes and ball washers, as well as no clubhouse access or limited food and beverage service.

Most of those rules are in place in other parts of Canada, but there is still a sense of unknown as to exactly what the regulations in Ontario and Quebec will be.

We Are Golf, a lobby group made up of representatives from all of golf’s major governing bodies, has been working with the provincial governments, giving information from which the chief medical officer will issue a list of rules and procedures that must be followed.

“We don’t have the final document from the chief medical officer,” said Mike Kelly, the executive director, of Golf Ontario. “But we’ve provided him with a detailed document of what we think will allow golfers to play and those who work at courses to do so safely.”

Kelly added that courses have been told they will be under careful scrutiny to see if the rules are being broken and that every course should expect visits from bylaw officers.

“Our new catch-phrase is going to be ‘Play safe, stay safe and follow the rules,’” he said.

As two of the last provinces to open, Ontario and Quebec have been able to learn from others such as B.C., where the courses were never ordered to close. In most of those provinces, golf has been a bright spot during the pandemic.

“They’re taking advantage of golf being so well positioned to safely provide the outdoor exercise, the fresh air and sunshine, and the mental stimulation and some actual human interaction,” said Jeff Calderwood, head of the National Golf Course Owners Association (NGCOA).

“Golf can deliver that so well and there are so few alternatives out there. So the courses that are open are very, very busy.”

The NGCOA has worked with every province to help develop some of the practices that are in place. Most of those will be internal matters, but as Calderwood points out, golf is likely to face some flak from non-golfers who view the sport as being just for the wealthy. That’s likely to be heightened at a time such as this.

 “One concern that they have to pay attention to is the public perception,” he said. “Golf has been a bit of a target historically for people to take potshots at.”

The business side of golf should not be lost in its restart. In addition to providing a recreational outlet, golf is a significant contributor to Ontario’s economy, providing more than $5 billion to the province’s GDP. In Quebec, that number is $2.5 billion.

The sport is also a key supplier of jobs, with a combined 160,000 people working in the industry in the two provinces. Approximately a third of those are summer students.