COMMENT: Any Given Monday
When we think of the country's multi-million dollar sports facilities, we tend to think of the country's white elephants, like Eden Park, the Cake Tin and the Millennium Centre. The truth is there's actually close to 400 multi-million dollar sports facilities dotted around the country, and the vast majority of them are in danger of ruin.
We're talking golf courses and before we get any further, let's make one thing clear: this is not going to delve into the arguments about whether golf courses are a good use of land, particularly public land. Anybody familiar with the thoughts of economist Shamubeel Eaqub or Canadian author Malcolm Gladwell will know there is a weighty subset of intelligentsia who believe that golf courses are the great land travesty of modern society, but let's park that debate for another time.
Instead let's focus on the fact that golf courses are pleasant, tranquil places and while some of the country club-style courses might have the average New Zealander reaching for the chunder bag with their clientele, prices and overblown etiquette, the bulk of courses outside of Auckland are fairly egalitarian places of recreation.
In fact, you could make a solid argument that in many small towns and rural areas, the golf club has superseded the rugby club in terms of being a focal point for the community and a key social driver for the over-60s set.
All the courses, whether they're tended to by an army of greenkeepers or a volunteer on a ride-on Masport, require a lot of work to keep them playable.
The problem is the greens. While manicured fairways look spectacular, they can be brought back up to speed fairly quickly – not so the putting surfaces.
Greens rely on the grass being both very fine and very dense to create a smooth surface. Anybody with a lawn will know that grass does not naturally grow fine and dense. If untended it grows as nature intended, which is coarse and stalky.
Coarse grass is resilient. Fine grass is not. It is vulnerable to disease and a range of hungry insects.
Every head greenkeeper has 18 children and it only takes one unruly child to drag the reputation of the family down.
At this stage, the advice to all golf clubs across New Zealand was that no maintenance was to take place during the lockdown. Golf New Zealand has lobbied the Government to relax that ruling, with the backing of the Sports Turf Institute. They had hoped to have a ruling on Friday. That extended through the weekend.
At the time of writing they were still waiting to hear.
One club administrator at a city fringe club outlined the "panic" many clubs were feeling. Some, he said, were already at the point of "going to the wall"; a huge maintenance bill and lengthy wait post-lockdown to re-sow and restore greens would be the tipping point for others.
Conservative estimates suggest it would take two months from start of repair to fix the greens, with no foot traffic on them.
Why, they are thinking, were they not allowed back on the greens – with strict distancing measures in place – at the same time council workers were allowed in to maintain swimming pools, another unused set of facilities?
It is a reasonable question. Is there a kind of reverse snobbery at play here?
Auckland was bathing in sunlight and uncommon April heat last week.
It was a good day for a "responsible" walk. My route took me up the hill and along a road with wide footpaths and verges. Avoiding fellow walkers and runners was easy.
Pupuke Golf Club appeared. Why not, I thought.
It seemed scores of other nearby residents had the same thought. There were singles, couples and families by the dozens wandering the undulating fairways enjoying the unfettered views across to Rangitoto and beyond.
Part of me thought it was pretty neat that this stunning chunk of the city was finally being used by the public; part of me felt like a trespasser.
As I headed back home I passed a green – possibly the par 3 sixth - where a family had set up shop and, probably naively, was playing football on the tabletop surface. A good walk was spoiled.
The irony couldn't have been sharper: here, in the midst of a lockdown, was a golf course as busy as I have ever seen it, with people seemingly free to destroy it, whether intentionally or not, yet the club itself cannot lift a finger to repair it.
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In the general scheme of Covid-19 related issues, golf course maintenance might be low on the list of things to address. "First they came for our golf courses," is not likely to ever be a thing.
Still, there is an arbitrariness to what we deem essential that is hard to follow. Soft furnishing feel relatively trivial, yet I can go online and order some mustard-coloured cushions from K-Mart to be delivered to my door by some unnecessarily imperilled courier driver.
Golf and bowls, which is in the same boat in terms of turf maintenance, play an important role in the recreation and fitness of a demographic for which we now know it is vitally important to keep healthy – those from middle to old age.
Having a multitude of clubs fall over because of neglect helps nobody, not when the fix seems so easy and relatively safe.
After that we can properly debate the public ownership of golf courses.
* Any Given Monday will return in late-April.