Golfers in foursome at the Coronado municipal course high-five after finishing play over the weekend — the first time they could play in weeks.
Golfers in foursome at the Coronado municipal course high-five after finishing play. Photo by Ken Stone

I love golf, and like many thousands of locals, have found Balboa Golf Course, Torrey Pines and Mission Bay to be enjoyable challenges.  But a drawback during the pandemic is the very slow play at times. 

I’ve encountered this at Balboa and heard from fellow golfers about slow play elsewhere. I recently spent two hours playing five holes. To those unfamiliar with the game, that is a lot of time. Like a Padres-Dodgers game.  

I began to explore the whys of this and made a public records request to the city about how many golfers are out on the city courses now as opposed to pre-pandemic. There has indeed been a surge, and I suspect it’s because many of us needed an outlet for pandemic shut-in fever.

In addition, many new golfers took the opportunity to learn the sport, mishitting shots and spending time searching for balls in the canyons. Then, to make things worse, the the city banned marshals from the courses because of liability concerns during the height of COVID. 

Now that we can go back into restaurants, and as long as we play by the rules, it’s time the City of San Diego recognizes some of the science now understood about the pandemic. For example, it doesn’t sit on stuff and wait for you. 

So I never could understand why the folks in charge of our citizens’ golf courses removed benches, as well as  the rakes to smooth the sand traps, and no longer used the valuable volunteers who monitor the golfers on the course to make sure they keep up with the groups in front of them. 

Months ago, other golf courses realized smoothing out a sand trap is not a dangerous activity unless someone accidently beans you with a golf ball. Benches on golf courses are not breeding grounds but a place where a winded or older golfer can take a momentary break.  This is particularly true on the Balboa course with its 6,339 yards of up-and-down terrain.

Even before the pandemic shutdown, course usage numbers were starting to build, not just at Balboa but across the country, according to the National Golf Foundation, which said “the golf year actually got off to a strong start.” Of course it all tanked after the March 21 pandemic shutdown. But golf quickly came roaring back.

I requested and received from the city their “Monthly Rounds Report,” which tracks how many of us are out there at all the San Diego city-owned courses. In total, there are 33.3% more golfers playing on all the courses. With that increase, combined with no marshals and many new golfers joining the fray, it’s no wonder the rounds are taking longer. 

My thanks to John Howard, who works for the city, for reviewing these numbers and helping me interpret two pages of spreadsheets listing every month of usage since 2019.  Some of the months have seen mind-blowing increases — 58% for the Balboa 18-hole course in December during the second shutdown, for example. Of course a muted rainy season played a role.

Golf’s popularity will always be the challenge of never reaching perfection. For new players or old duffers, remember if you hit the ball left it’s a hook, if you hit the ball right it’s a slice, and when you hit it straight — it’s a miracle

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