Golf courses, tennis courts among Ontario rec facilities set to reopen

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The phone started ringing at the Red Lake Golf and Country Club just moments after the Ontario government gave the go-ahead for many outdoor recreation facilities to reopen starting Saturday.

Clubhouse manager Colin Hodgson said golfers were thrilled that they could finally book tee times.

"You know when you can hear in someone's voice when they're smiling? You can hear it in music or you can hear it on the phone — that's the vibe," Hodgson said. "There's so much positivity going. We have a chance to do something, we have a chance to be social and to be safe."

Now that the government has given the green light, it's shaping up to be a very busy long weekend at golf courses, tennis clubs and pickleball courts around Ontario. There will be restrictions in place, including physical distancing, and no team sports can be played or practised.

Chris Urquhart, head pro at the Markham Tennis Club north of Toronto, said communicating with members, organizing lessons and court times while setting up camp registration has "been hectic, but a really good hectic."

"Everyone is sending positive emails, everyone is excited to get back on the court," he said Friday. "It's definitely something you want and something people are happy for. It's nothing but good, positive news and I'm more than happy to be putting in the extra hours and the overtime.

"It's nice that things are getting going and there's definitely some nice light at the end of the tunnel."

Many of the province's restrictions on outdoor recreation facilities first came into effect on April 17, a day after Ontario Premier Doug Ford announced additional restrictions related to the COVID-19 stay-at-home order.

Ford walked back moves on increased police power and the closing of playgrounds, but kept outdoor sport facilities closed, much to the disappointment of many provincial residents, clubs, sport associations and athletes.

Ontario was the only jurisdiction in North America to ban golf, and that sport's community has been vocal in its disagreement. Brooke Henderson, Canada's winningest pro golfer, said this week that she hoped golf could return to her home province soon and added she felt the sport could be played safely.

"The confusing thing for everybody is that golf proved itself to be safe last year. It ran really well and safely," said Jennifer Pendrith, superintendent at Kawartha Golf and Country Club in Peterborough, Ont.

"All our members were super-safe, it worked out great and everyone had a great year. So I think that we have that to look forward to, it's going to be a similar year to last year."

With COVID-19 far more transmissible indoors than outdoors, many have argued the resumption of outdoor sports can be beneficial for Ontarians at a challenging time.

"For a sport where you can set up the protocols and you can be safe, it's giving people in our community — at least from my vantage point — just an outlet to go do something that's different," Hodgson said.

The 300-member Red Lake club - located about 500 kilometres northwest of Thunder Bay - would normally open in early May, said Hodgson.

"Coming out of the winter, it's something I think we really need in this community," Hodgson said of the return of outdoor sport options. "You can hear it in people's voices as they're calling in to book times.

"I have (never) heard this kind of excitement from people just to get out there and enjoy the sport outside."

This report by The Canadian Press was first published May 21, 2021.

Follow @GregoryStrongCP on Twitter.

Gregory Strong, The Canadian Press

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