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It’s time to open up golf courses to all

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Thirty tastefully landscaped, publicly owned hectares in an urban area, enjoyed by only a tiny proportion of the population, is an astonishing and significant “private” oasis. In this modern world, and pandemic-informed moment, it seems only sensible and fair to maximise the use of a course by opening it up to any in need of its benefits. By this, I mean long-term shared use for all, beyond lockdowns.

A golf course – by the nature of the game – is used only intermittently, by small groups of people, many of whom are only free on weekends.

I know this because I have walked the periphery of this course for decades and have seen how many golfers use it mid-week. We are not talking a continual parade of golfers banked up, waiting to tee off. Not even close. On many days it is completely devoid of people.

Why, I wonder, can’t we find a way for it be shared – officially, that is, by clearly demarcating golfing and non-golfing days to ensure people’s safety – to satisfy everyone, both those who golf and those who do not?

And before those good folk wielding 7 irons get crazy angry at such a classist and un-athletic “attack”, let me explain. I come from a family of golfers. I admire the game. I understand its enchantments, the passions of its players. But what if, with careful management, the landscapes golfers enjoy in their addiction might also be used by people less interested in cajoling a white ball into a tiny faraway hole, and more interested in merely having wind in their hair and a sweeping lawn underfoot?

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What if a public golf course set aside one or two days a week for local city ramblers in need of its particular beauty, people who’d like to tread quietly upon their manicured neighbourhood lawns, minus spiked shoes and buggies and sticks? Or what if golf courses allocated time for ramblers on its fairways before and after golfers’ hours?

Arguments that non-golfers wouldn’t care for or respect tender fairway lawns are spurious. Follow behind any poor golfer – they are legion – and you’ll be aghast at the wanton damage they do to grass. I have never once seen a rambler chop or hack at any lawn he or she walked over.

No, that argument will not wash. Stipulate sneakers on a golf course, govern rambler numbers, make the putting greens off-limits if you must, but a public golf course is – and should be – a shareable asset. Nature walks for city dwellers improve mental wellbeing. Those links are clear, no pun intended.

Catherine Ford is a Melbourne writer.

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