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COVID-19 and Golf

What You Should Know About Play Golf During the Covid-19 Crisis…and Social Distancing.

Governments, clubs and associations continue to institute a range of recommendations about whether golf courses should be open during the coronavirus crisis. The information you’ll find here is primarily about playing golf while adhering to social distance guidelines.

For so many golfers, amateur and pro, golf is an escape from the stresses of everyday life, stresses that no doubt are at a new level in the wake of fears brought on by the coronavirus pandemic. Fact is, with the right precautions and perhaps a little pre- and post-round modifications, golf might be just the right antidote to the mounting fears of coronavirus.

According to Dr. Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center at Houston, golf as it’s normally played—outdoors, with natural social-distancing built in—“would be fairly safe.”


Golf as a form of recreation, given the right conditions, can be a lot closer to hiking. As Dr. Troisi explains, it’s the way the game is different than other activities that makes it a viable alternative to locking yourself indoors.

“You’re not in contact with a whole lot of other people, 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,” she said.

Also, the outside aspect of golf is not trivial. “So I would say in the actual playing of golf, you’re not at much risk.”

Dr. Catherine Troisi


Generally, the key is to be more than six feet away from others. Stay out of gimme distance. The benefits of social distancing is an effective means of controlling the spread of the virus. For an otherwise healthy 35-year-old, “the odds are very high that even if you did get sick, you would be fine.”

The problems come with infecting more vulnerable members of the community, such as the elderly. As we age, our immune system doesn’t work as well. Of course the average age of an American golfer is older than 50, and in some communities like private clubs there’s a high percentage of players who are 70-plus.

Within the context of a round of golf and with respect to what social distancing means, a golf course rarely constitutes a crowded setting.

Also, it seems wise to refrain from large golf outings or group clinics where golfers might be gathered for significant periods. Even long face-to-face conversations during a delay on a tee box should be avoided because it poses the risk of an inadvertent cough or sneeze, according to Julian Tang, a virologist and professor at the University of Leicester in England.

“If you can smell what someone had for lunch—garlic, curry, etc.—you are inhaling what they are breathing out, including any virus in their breath,” he told The New York Times.

“There’s just a lot that we don’t know. But we’re learning more every day. Social distancing was done [during 1918 flu pandemic], and we know that cities that did it had fewer cases and fewer deaths than cities that didn’t.”

Albert Ko, Chair of the Epidemiology Department at the Yale School of Public Health.


Though the risk of playing golf is the same, the results might be more dangerous. Troisi said the research indicates that there were significantly higher death rates in China for people older than 65 and those rates increased greatly in those older than 70 and particularly for those 80 and older. “What we don’t know is whether there were other conditions,” she said. “But we do know your immune system doesn’t work as well, so it is certainly something to consider if you are in that age group.”

Dr. Troisi said senior golfers, just like all golfers, should be especially vigilant about the current Centers for Disease Control guidelines for vigorous hand-washing. Since hand-washing might not be a practical option out on the seventh tee box, for example, she says hand sanitizer is an effective alternative and should be in every golfer’s bag. “In terms of killing pathogens, a hand sanitizer works just as well as washing with soap and water,” she said.


Though Dr. Troisi does think golf is a relatively safe activity in the current situation, she does advocate some changes in behavior from how people currently enjoy the game. Riding in a cart with a friend, for instance, puts you within the six-foot range, which is reason to consider walking or taking your own cart. We normally support taking caddies, but that dynamic poses new risk under the current circumstances.

As for the flagstick, despite our scientific evidence that leaving the flagstick in hurts your chances of putts being holed, it’s probably best to leave the flagsticks untouched for the entire day. That said, some important things to remember:

  • Though the virus has been shown to stay contagious for two to three days on an inanimate object, those are largely in laboratory settings. “We haven’t done those experiments outside and in sunlight, so the odds are it would be a much shorter time,” Troisi said.
  • Touching an infected surface does not give you COVID-19, the disease brought on by this novel coronavirus. Touching an infected surface and then immediately touching your face is the problem. The virus travels through the viral droplets from a sneeze or cough and gets in your cells through the nose, ears and mouth.
  • That goes, as well, for handling someone else’s clubs.

When it comes to direct person-to-person contact, keeping to yourself and keeping your distance is still the correct way to go.


Fighting the coronavirus is a communal effort, but from an individual basis, it also has much to do with our immune systems, and the fact is our immune systems do not work well when they are stressed.

“Social distancing doesn’t mean you’re being a hermit,” Troisi said.

“Relieving stress helps your immune system and we know that physical activity boosts your immune system, so for both mental and physical health, it’s good to get activity however you can get it without putting yourself at risk.

So anything outside where you’re not putting yourself in close proximity to a lot of people can be good for you. Being in nature helps your mental health, as well.”

Less stress, physical activity, being outdoors, taking in nature. Maybe hitting more practice balls on the range or even walking the course at night with a club and a few balls. Sounds a lot like the game we love.

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