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Playing golf while social distancing? Here’s what you need to know

So, is it OK to continue to play golf at a country club or public course?

This week the state of Washington, which has been hit hard by COVID-19, issued an emergency proclamation mandating the closures of certain businesses and public spaces. You may be reassured knowing that as difficult as the challenge has been in that state, golf courses were specifically listed among those businesses that are allowed to remain open.

You can’t go to a bowling alley in the state right now. You can’t go to a gym or fitness center, or to any kind of sporting event with more than 50 people gathering, but you can still get a tee time and play.

Wherever you live, though, experts recommend you take precautions if you’re going to play golf.

“Golf courses are shared public spaces, so there is an increased risk of the viral transmission and spread that can compromise your safety and those you interact with,” says Geoff Dreher, a sports medicine physician and assistant professor and team doctor at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine in Baltimore, Maryland. “So, you need to be aware of your potential risk, based on age, medical conditions, and of the risk for those you interact with on a regular basis, like family members, friends and co-workers. But, if golf courses are remaining open, as they are, I think it’s realistic that people are going to go and play.

“You just need to be aware of the risks and do your best to reduce those risks.”

And if you’re among those who are at more risk to the virus, you may need to think twice about playing.

“Those who are older than 65, those who have medical conditions, the big ones being heart, lung diseases or diabetes, or if you are immunocompromised at any age, you have to be a little more cognizant of your risks, and think about whether it’s acceptable, to your health,” Dreher said. “Golfing would be on the milder end of sports and risks, but there are still risks with those shared spaces, especially if you are going into locker rooms and dining areas, or where there’s contact with people moving through.”

If you are going to play, Dreher said it’s advisable to disinfect your clubs and any equipment before and after you play.

And when you arrive at the course, if there’s a valet waiting to take your clubs to the staging area, you may want to wave him off and take your clubs yourself.

“You want to do as much as you can to keep that 6 feet of distance between people, so reducing your risks,” Dreher said. “If you’re in a group, that means keeping that distance, covering any coughs, walking the course instead of using carts that may be touched multiple times throughout a week, avoiding locker rooms or dining areas, maybe leave the flag or pin in.”

So, it’s not advisable to give your buddy’s new driver a try.

“More information is coming out that the COVID-19 virus can stay on objects for several days,” Dreher said.

And it’s not advisable to high five or shake hands before, during or after a round.

“Bring hand sanitizer, avoid touching your face, and wash your hands as much as you can,” Dreher said.

Here’s a look at some events on primary tours that have been canceled or postponed amid the COVID-19 concerns.

And what about grabbing lunch at the turn, or after the round?

“Avoiding as many people possible handling food is beneficial, and so is avoiding sitting in the dining area,” he said. “If you are going to eat there, get it as takeout, just to limit your time in those confined spaces, or shared contact areas.”

And what about paying? Should you use a credit card or money?

“I can’t confirm this, but I would assume [germs] stay on credit cards longer than money, but there’s a higher risk with money, because it’s more likely to change hands among multiple people, where your credit card is more likely to only be handled by you,” Dreher said.

So, if you’re wondering whether to keep playing, yes, there’s risk, but the experts say it’s manageable in golf’s large, open spaces.