Golf in Ontario – Eminence Informed Decision-Making, a Tired Electorate and a Game on Hold

My home course, Hidden Lake Golf Club is one of 800 courses in Ontario closed due to a provincial policy decision on outdoor activity.

It has been 15 months since I have last been in my office.  Covid-19 is in its third wave, arguably it’s worst to-date and with more infectious variants around and with issues around the supply and administration of vaccinations it is an understatement to say this is a stressful and challenging time.  I have never aspired to be an elected official.  My day job has me work for a publicly funded university in Ontario where my responsibilities rest in areas of research partnerships and the impact of research.  The notion of evidence-informed decision making is something I seek to support in my job, focusing on academic researchers and their non-academic partners.  Also, I will say that I sincerely believe that most elected officials believe in serving the public good; it the vision for that greater good which we can argue and respectfully disagree on.  To me, at the heart of decision making for citizens is a need to engage in the body of evidence as a critical key in addressing public policy.

On the heels of a global pandemic the need for science – rigorous, clearly communicated and effectively implemented – are important.  Yet this is not always the case and we’re getting to the root of my personal frustration with governments.  I acknowledge there are many factors which go into policy decision making; evidence being only one of them.  I also respect the unique complexity and inherent challenges around decision making in the throws of a global pandemic which threatens the health and wellness of the entire population.  But there is a seeming randomness around polices and rules which are set in place to protect and safeguard the populace. 

The fact golf is closed is Ontario in and of itself is not the most frustrating issue for me personally.  Playing the sport is a privilege and there is something bigger at play here.  Yet there are three issues I have with Ontario’s decision to close golf courses, and I present them for your consideration. I have heard industry leaders speak to the economic impacts, they’re real, but secondary to me in terms of public health.  Still, it’s another variable.  My issues are as follows:

  1. No Evidence to Show Golf Poses a Transmission Risk

20 million rounds last year and no cases traceable back to golf.  That’s a decent track record from a safety perspective.  If golf posed any credible risk, I would be more respectful of the need for its closure in the sake of public health but public policy making is complex and the sense that golf is collateral damage to secure the safety of citizens is sheer folly if you’ve travelled to a garden centre, Costco or other questionably positioned ‘essential service’.  The lockdown in Ontario feels arbitrary and halfway done but drawing the line in the sand before outdoor activity is confusing.

2. The Evidence Doesn’t Vote, but Voters do.

Decisions made for the public good need to be made sometimes to protect people from themselves.  Evidence, if I can be honest, is only one aspect that goes into decision making.  Voter satisfaction is another factor.  It’s the human condition of politics and woven into its very short-term fabric.  Which, again, makes the decision to strike healthy and relatively safe activities off the to-do list as confusing.  There are millions of votes at stake if I can be so crass.

3. Only in Ontario

The pandemic has hit North America hard.  Ontario, among other jurisdictions are struggling to formulate a response to safeguard the population.  But there is nowhere else in the world where golf is deemed to be unsafe to play.  Nowhere. Else. In. The. World.  I feel for our golf industry leaders, seeking to meaningfully engage and advocate for the safe return of the game.  It’s like they’re yelling in the wind.  To me, this political decision is one of eminence informed decision making.  Leaders feel it’s right.  No evidence backs up that feeling.

The past 15 months has not been politicians’ finest moments in Canada.  Arguably there have been policy decisions which have had a negative impact on our recovery.  Golf’s closure is low on the list, but it’s on the list and I am a golf writer, not a political activist.  Still, I wanted to use this medium to share my issues and concerns with policy decisions related to golf.  Because the inconsistencies and lack of respect for evidence-based decision making is having a direct and negative effect on our communities.  One Twitter follower of mine said it, so I will share it, “Elect a clown and don’t act surprised when there’s a circus”.  Harsh perhaps, but my own frustration is real.  I miss the game. I am seeking safe outlets to support my own health and wellness.  I hope people stay safe and do all they can to ensure they’re healthy.  Golf can help.  In Ontario, it is well past time to open golf courses. 

There will be better days on the horizon. For now, keep well and continue the respectful advocacy efforts to get golf open in Ontario.

Mildly addicted to the game of golf. Fiercely loyal. A planner, a dreamer, reflective and a proud and passionate Canadian. A father. A fiancé. A tree planter. A Trent graduate. A dog owner. Falling in love with my putter after many failed relationships. A scratch golfer stuck in a 10 handicap body. Love, love, love golf value. Fade on a good day. One ace (and seeking a second). A golf writer/blogger focused on public golf in Canada. Chipping away at my own Bucket List of Canadian golf courses.

2 thoughts on “Golf in Ontario – Eminence Informed Decision-Making, a Tired Electorate and a Game on Hold

  1. Hey Mike

    This is a classic case of Pareto’s principle: specifies that 80% of consequences come from 20% of the causes, asserting an unequal relationship between inputs and outputs.

    Basically a small amount of issues are keeping the golf courses closed. Not sure I have an answer, but like you, I feel for politicians trying to please the 80%.

    Cheers Jim

    1. Makes sense – in a nonsensical way. Lol. Thanks Jim. Yes, it’s a complex issue and I wouldn’t want to be in charge. But if I was, you’d be playing Men’s Night today. Cheers, keep well, Mike.

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