27 April 2020: The Stalag Luft III, an infamously secure camp run by the Germans during world war II is remembered mostly for the audacious escape of 75 allied prisoners of war. Their heroic efforts were captured in the timeless Hollywood epic, The Great Escape. But a lesser known fact about the camp was that the German guards allowed the allied forces captured there to mediate a makeshift set up for playing golf. While professional golf took a break during the war years, there were several clubs that remained open and diehard golfers around the world found innovative ways to continue dabbling in the game.
As the world experiences another unprecedented disruption, this time to a contagion of coronavirus, there are some that believe golf could and should continue regardless. The aptly named Outlaw Tour and the Cactus Tour, played in the arid environs of Arizona have continued to conduct tournaments even as all the mainstream golf Tours around the world have slipped into an indefinite suspension.
Back to the Nazi camp, “American and British prisoners really wanted a way to preserve their humanity, and a lot of that was through sports, and in particular, golf,” Mike Trostel of the USGA told the Fox network in 2018. “The German guards in this POW camp allowed the prisoners to build rudimentary golf holes.”
But the Red Cross could not deliver them golf balls, as wartime rations constrained manufacturing activity around the world. Not to be defeated, the soldiers peeled the leather off their shoes to stitch together the object needed for them to indulge in a passion they seem to have loved, even amidst the enormous stresses of being in a Nazi camp.
“The soldiers took the leather from the top of their boots and stitched it together, almost like a baseball, to create the outer shell of the golf ball,” explained Trostel. “Then, to create the core of the ball, the soldiers shaved the rubber soles from the bottom of their boots into really small pieces, and stuffed the shavings in the middle.” The artefacts remain on display at the Golf Museum in New Jersey.
As it is the current pandemic has lead to closure of courses around the world, but there are still some facilities that have kept open during the crisis. More importantly, the shutdown has put minds to work, creating some ingenious solutions to enable contact free golf, making a loud case for an early resumption for the game.
Anything we can do to reduce human contact will keep the course open longer! Pool noodle is awesome @GolfAust @Rod_Morri @InsideThe_Ropes @PGAofAustralia @DavidGallichio @gavin_golf @hendygolf @AndyMaherDFA @Hayesy24 @karenharding123 @GolfAustMag @GolfDigestAU pic.twitter.com/zZJZy5ag1P
— Sandy Jamieson (@jamogolf) March 20, 2020
In place at #TheCradle, this will be done on all Pinehurst courses Friday – including Pinehurst No. 2 – as we recommend social distancing & keeping flagsticks untouched, etc. – A 2" diameter PVC cut to about 2.5" length.
— Pinehurst Resort (@PinehurstResort) March 19, 2020
As in the illustrations above, golf starved individuals have suggested various measures such as raking by foot, using an insert in the cup and spaced tee times to provide for the game without the need for breaking social distancing norms. Perhaps even reduce the risks related to transmission by touching surfaces such as the flagstick or the rake.
In a society deeply distressed by the lockdown, an early morning relief to play a couple of hours of golf could be the perfect antidote for many women and men, feeling shackled by the dreadful impact of coronavirus.