The golf ban has been a simmering point of tension in Victoria since the introduction of coronavirus restrictions. Other states allow a modified, socially-distant form of the sport. Victoria does not.
The state’s Chief Health Officer Brett Sutton on Friday reiterated the ban: “My view on golf? You can’t play it,” he wrote on Twitter.
State Liberal MP Tim Smith last week called the ban a symbol of Victoria’s “punitive” and “ridiculous” social distancing rules compared to other states.
But Premier Daniel Andrews stood by the state’s health advice on Monday, saying strict social distancing measures had protected Victoria from a coronavirus scenario similar to the US.
“[New York] Governor Cuomo wishes he was having a debate about golf, let me assure you of that,” he told reporters.
“Many, many world leaders wish they were having a debate about golf. They’re not. They’re having a debate about where the temporary morgues will go.”
With Victoria to review its lockdown rules on May 11, golf is likely to stay in the crosshairs. A political golf ball, if you will.
Mr Andrews said the first lift in restrictions would likely include meetings with more than one other person and some sports.
After shutting then reopening, twice, Thurgoona, like other courses in Australia, is operating with all the recommended social distancing rules.
There are 10-minute gaps between each playing group, the clubhouse is closed and players cannot touch flags – a potential spreader of coronavirus germs.
Mr Fitzgerald has chosen not to cash in on the inconsistency between Victoria and New South Wales.
“In normal circumstances we have a lot of groups come up from Melbourne to stay in our accommodation for a weekend and play,” he said.
“The last couple of weeks we had a lot of calls about doing that. But we’ve had to say no – it would just put a spotlight on us, and potentially harm our community and golf in general.”
Back in Melbourne, golf players are thinking beyond the office-friendly putting green.
Peter Knight, a golf instructor from Frankston, says many of his clients have set up golf nets in their gardens.
[New York] Governor Cuomo wishes he was having a debate about golf, let me assure you of that.
Daniel Andrews, Victorian Premier
Like other businesses who’ve adapted to a socially distant world, Mr Knight has moved his coaching services online and into his home.
“People will submit their golf swings for me to have a look at. I’ll analyse those and either do a voice-over with graphics to send back to them, or I’ll get out on the deck and do a demonstration,” he said.
Seeing golf become a political issue has been a “weird feeling”, he says.
“I’m reading it like I’m part of that whole conversation, but I know whatever opinion I have isn’t going to change it.”
Golf courses in NSW have been open since April 1, shortly after shock jocks Alan Jones and Ray Hadley took the issue to NSW Sports Minister Geoff Lee on air. Sam Newman did his best to imitate them last week, taking his protest to Victorian Parliament steps.
On the border, Kim Gray, president of Howlong Golf Club – 30 kilometres east of Albury in NSW – says the Victorian debate is “starting to look like a mirror image” of NSW three weeks ago.
“I think our preference would have been that golf effectively wasn’t front page news,” he said.
“We’d have preferred that it was allowed like we are now doing: under the radar, working smoothly and efficiently, without the shock jocks of NSW and Sam Newman heightening the level of angst about golf as being something special.”
Michael is a reporter for The Age.