The pandemic and subsequent quarantine have made two things (among many) abundantly clear: Dogs and golf are keeping us sane. Statistics are showing that we have been filling new found voids and loneliness with beloved doggos. Breeders, shelters, rescues, and the like are all reporting dramatic increases in demand. Some shelters were reporting double their standard monthly rate of applicants in June. Personally, I don’t know what I would’ve done without my beloved Rhodesian Ridgeback Koa during quarantine. Dogs are on the rise. What else is on the rise? Golf. The PGA tour was one of the first major sports to return to live television, and before that, they featured fun exhibition matches that audiences loved. Furthermore, golf lends itself nicely to social distancing. People are itching to get outside. Some courses are reporting a 25-30% increase in rounds per month. According to GolfNow, public course traffic was up 60% during quarantine.
So during times of extreme stress and abnormalcy, we are running to dogs and golf as therapy. Now, this begs the question, Why don’t we combine these two wonderful therapies more often? Some courses are ahead of the curve. Consider Agate Beach Golf Course in Newport, Oregon. Owner Terry Martin has been there for 60 years. His grandfather built the course in 1927 and they have always had dogs around the course and in the pro shop, mostly golden retrievers and labs. Martin calls the vibe at ABGC a very dog positive environment. All the maintenance guys and supers have dogs. They understand the relationship an owner has with their dog and never want pups to be left home alone or in the car. He said he never has any regrets or negativity around his dog heaven he calls a golf course. Imagine being a kid and your parents going to Disney World without you. That’s gotta be close to what we are doing to our dogs when we go golfing and ABGC will have none of it.
What if you had your furry friend beside you no matter how bad your swing was?! Strokes, down. Happiness, up.
Our friends overseas have likewise seemed to welcome dogs more than we do here in the U.S. “Many overseas visitors are surprised by the number of dogs they see on the courses and around the clubhouse,” says John Churchill, the club historian and a member at Sunningdale Golf Club in England. The best golf dogs heel when players are hitting, never walk on greens or in bunkers and even retrieve lost balls. Dogs-in-training are tethered to a golf bag, a pushcart, or handed to a caddie.” One of the greatest things about dogs is no matter how bad your day was, they’re always happy to see you. What if you had your furry friend beside you no matter how bad your swing was?! Strokes, down. Happiness, up.
The story of adaptive golfer Marcus Williams isn’t inspiring for the reason you think it is.
How could US courses facilitate this union between dogs and golf like we see in the UK? To start, influencers in the sport would need to begin to normalize this kind of thing. This trend has been evident in some corners of the golf world but not nearly enough to make an impact. Furthermore, some guidelines on course websites would be helpful. Encourage golfers to bring a leash and throw some treats in the bag alongside their Prov’s. Who knows, perhaps pooper scoopers could come standard on every cart. If clubs are hesitant of potential problems, training rounds could be encouraged at dusk before Sparky gears up for the real thing.
Do yourself a favor and check the #golfdog hashtag out on Instagram. If a few scrolls through that world doesn’t give you a picture of what I’m talking about, then you must be a cat person. Now, I know what you’re thinking. Of course there will be some collateral damage. A couple new holes dug? Sure. Bark in the backswing? Yup. A few dumps in the cup? Probably. Yet, if we were to apply the basic training we all give our dogs anyway, perhaps we could add man’s best friend to the foursome.
Erik is a writer and teacher from Fort Lauderdale, FL. When he's not trying to figure out ways to golf for free, he's usually hanging out with his wife and Rhodesian Ridgeback, Koa. You can find more of his work at punchbowlgolf.co