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BLUE-SKY THINKING

The case for making golf courses public parks during coronavirus

AP Photo/Mark J. Terrill
Where the air is fresh and social distancing easy.

With city parks around the world often closed or crowded due to the pandemic, many are tempted by a simple idea: turn golf courses into public spaces that everyone can enjoy.

In San Francisco, authorities did just that, making non-golfers realize what expanses of space are normally reserved for the select few:

In the UK, an MP for the Green Party shared a petition to open up golf courses to the public to give everyone more room to benefit from the outdoors:

At the Guardian, writer George Monbiot parallels the inaccessibility of golf courses to centuries of land ownership by the wealthy. “When the lockdown ends, let’s celebrate by demanding a right to roam on open land in both cities and the countryside. Let’s have a legal definition of public space, in which peaceful use and assembly is established as a universal right,” he writes.

Turning golf courses into public parks is not a new idea. For years before the pandemic, many areas have been turning their golf courses into parks and housing areas, or considering doing so, following lagging demand for golfing and pressure from various advocacy groups.

Golf courses take up massive swaths of land. The private ones cost thousands of dollars in annual member fees, and are notorious for being playgrounds for the wealthy. Public ones can be enjoyed only by golf enthusiasts who are able, or willing, to pay for entry. (In 2018, $36 was the median cost for an 18-hole round in the US.) That’s a tiny fraction of the population.

Writer Malcolm Gladwell got bashed by golfers after he called the sport “crack for rich white guys” in a 2017 podcast episode called “A Good Walk Spoiled.”

Golf courses have also long been criticized for being detrimental to the environment, using up huge amounts of water and chemicals to maintain the grass. (Although some progress here has been made, and some argue golf courses provide an opportunity for wildlife preservation.)

Parks, on the other hand, benefit entire communities, providing space for exercise and play, and access to nature and fresh air. The pandemic is only showing that we need more of that. As soon as possible.

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