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On Sherwood Hills GC and the IATF Protocols - An Op-Ed

Sherwood Hills' clubhouse is warm, open and airy. A great place to chill and watch the sun go down.

On September 16, the Philippine Star ran an article on "a top Cavite golf club" and how it "violated IATF protocols by hosting an members day event". The article quoted several anonymous sources that appear to have attended the event and passed information to the paper.

In the interest of fairness and the pursuit of the facts of the matter. We visited Sherwood Hills Golf Club this morning and spoke at length with its general manager, Shin Paul Chan to get the club's side of the brewing controversy.

As a background to our discussions, private clubs like Sherwood Hills, don't make money off their members, instead relying on revenue from green fees collected from non-members that come to play the golf course and from events, such as tournaments, held at the club. The lengthy quarantine that we're all suffering has not only hurt businesses, cost half of the Filipino population their jobs, but it's also put all businesses, including golf clubs, in financially precarious situations.

Now, the the 5th provision of the Guidelines for Areas Placed Under the Modified General Community Quarantine reads:

"Mass gatherings, included but not limited to, movie screenings, concerts, sporting events, and other entertainment activities, religious services and work conferences shall be allowed provided that participants shall be limited to fifty percent (50%) of the seating or venue capacity."

According to Chan, the event wasn't a tournament. There was no competition nor was an awarding held. The Sherwood Hills clubhouse can seat 200 persons at a time, so the 80 members that participated were well within the guidelines of the IATF. 

One of the anonymous sources of the Philippine Star also pointed out, erroneously, that the capacity of the golf course is 72 players. Most golfers that play recreational tournaments know that a golf course can host a field of 144 players in a full shotgun. 160 is possible if you place 3 flights on the par fives. Even if the 80 members were slightly more than the course's capacity, we are compelled to point out that there is more than enough room for 80 players to remain socially distant from one another in the expansive environment of a golf course. 

Now, before we get embroiled in the technicalities of the guidelines and its potential violations, we find it relevant to explore the rationale behind the regulations which is to prevent the possible spread of Covid-19 in the population.

A few facts. First, there is no scientific evidence that shows the virus can be transmitted outdoors. Second, the average golf course is spread over an area that averages 300,000 square meters which should make it easy to distance oneself from others. 

Third, current science has determined that the only way the virus spreads is via breathing in of the aerosol emitted in the breath of an infected person. It doesn't spread by touch or any other method. The only way it spreads is by breathing. 80 people in an area of 300,000 square meters sounds like acceptable social distancing to our layman understanding of the concept.

Fourth, since the virus is essentially waterborne, its lifespan is drastically reduced outdoors in sunshine since the heat of the sun evaporates the water and thus kills the virus. The chances of passing the virus outdoors on a golf course are further reduced because of wind, making breathing in the viral load required to spread the virus extremely unlikely.

Now, let's examine Sherwood Hills' members day. The management of Sherwood Hills specifically designed the event to comply with the IATF guidelines as detailed above. 80 people is 20% less than the acceptable seating capacity of the Sherwood Hills clubhouse. The fans which are usually on during operations make the accumulation of potentially harmful aerosol from human breath next to impossible. It must also be pointed out that the Sherwood Hills clubhouse is open on all sides which further reduces the likelihood of virus spread on the premises.  

If we are to accept that all the preceding are true, then what's the fuss about? 

We find it unfortunate that fellow golfers would call into question the integrity of an event without first verifying the facts of the matter. Many are quick to examine the most minute of technicalities without regard for the bigger picture. The club's safety protocols were followed. Members came, played and enjoyed themselves. There's nothing in the IATF protocols that bans that.

Golf is one of the safest activities in these uncertain times. The sport is enjoying unprecedented popularity everywhere else in the world during the time of Covid-19. The United States, Canada and other countries are enjoying record number of rounds played and record equipment sales. 

Sherwood Hills attempt to return to some form of normalcy under current conditions should be applauded, not criticized or derided. We have lived in fear of the virus since the start of the various iterations of community quarantine. An examination of previous pandemics, particularly the Spanish Flu of 1918 reveals that the flu died out after it had infected enough people to create a general herd immunity. Now that the virus has become endemic to the country, the best thing we can do is get on with our lives since the local strain of the virus is apparently less virulent that the one decimating the United States.

Covid-19 is far less deadly than the Spanish influenza. According to our own Department of Health's statistics (whose accuracy is questioned by many), Covid-19 has a fatality rate of less than a tenth of a percent. There are many diseases that are statistically far more deadly and we've never gone to the extreme lengths we have because of the Corona virus. The country needs to snap out of this attitude of fear and try to return to some sort of normalcy before the economy implodes and wreaks more havoc on the country than the virus ever could. 

So, please, enough already. We are all suffering from the effects of the quarantine which hasn't contained the spread of the virus in our population. People have lost their jobs, entrepreneurs have lost their businesses. We need to shift gears in our strategy to fight the virus; figure out what we're doing wrong and shift to what really works. This climate of fear is going to bring the whole country down if we're not careful. 

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