Golfers in the rough as Ford government holds firm to closure of outdoor recreational facilities

COVID-19 case count has to drop significantly, says health minister

You can put that round of golf or game of tennis on hold.

Ontario Health Minister Christine Elliot said on Tuesday the province has no timeline for the reopening of outdoor recreational facilities such as tennis courts and golf courses, and COVID-19 cases will have to decline significantly for that to happen.

“We need to limit our mobility as much as possible to reduce transmission and we are going to be assessing this,” she said.

“But for right now we will need to continue with those measures in place to reduce mobility and reduce transmission.”

In an interview with Barrie 360 last week, Richard Edmonds, General Manager and Managing Partner of Tangle Creek Golf and Country Club near Barrie, said golf courses proved last year they were not a source of transmission for COVID-19.

“We can create a safe haven with as many restrictions as possible to ensure the safety of all players,” said Edmonds, who also sits on the Central Ontario chapter of the national advisory board of the National Golf Course Owners Association.

Besides a significant drop in COVID-19 cases, Elliott was clear more would have to happen before the ban on outdoor sports and other restrictions can be lifted.

“There isn’t an exact rate at this point but our medical experts are telling us that we need to see a continued reduction before we can start thinking about opening things up again,” she said.

Amid a continued rise in COVID-19 cases, the government extended the stay-at-home order and added additional restrictions on April 16 including a ban on outdoor sports.

Even the government’s team of science advisers have criticized the restriction of outdoor activities, saying they will not control COVID-19 and disproportionately harm children and those who don’t have their own green space.

The day after Premier Doug Ford announced the extra restrictions, he backtracked on a decision to rope off playgrounds following an outcry from the public.

As far as Edmonds is aware, there were no COVID-19 cases in the province due to the game of golf last year, with 20 million rounds played in Ontario by nearly two million golfers.

The Bridges golf course in Tillsonburg was recently charged for opening as were a number of players. The course has since announced a temporary closure.

Golf Ontario and provincial officials have been in talks.

Sport Minister Lisa MacLeod was not optimistic of a quick return to the greens.

“I do not see changes happening imminently, but will continue to work with our stakeholders and our public health officials to ensure a return to play, as soon as it’s safe to do so,” she said in a statement.

In Barrie, people have been seen using the basketball courts at the waterfront, even though they are closed under the stay-at-home order along with skateparks.

“We conduct both proactive and reactive patrols of all parks as often as our other calls for service allow,” said Tammy Banting, Manager of Environment Services.

Parks operations staff have closed off all basketball courts and skateparks, but Banting said they have had patrons who cut the fences at the skateparks or pull down the caution tape or signage that has been erected.

“If our Officers note persons onsite upon our arrival various enforcement options may be undertaken, from a verbal caution regarding the Provincial Orders up to the issuance of a Ticket or Summons depending on the extent of the interaction,” said Banting.