No one can force you to look for a bright side in a bad situation. Some moments, like the one we’re all in now, are just plain awful — a time for pragmatism, not saccharine positivity. We’re frazzled, bored, and worried about ourselves and loved ones, all of us divided up between the sick and the healthy, the essential and the unemployed.

Somehow, over the last six weeks, however, the closed golf course near my home became an unexpected getaway for me. I’ve never golfed 18 holes in my life, and just as I’ve vowed to never watch Titanic, I never will. In 2017, when I needed to move, I wanted to rent a small, possibly haunted house with no neighbors, but my kids protested. They don’t golf, either, but here we are, in a townhouse by Valleybrook Country Club in Camden County. Sometimes when I’m out front, reapplying duct tape to my car’s fender, golf carts buzz past me on the street on the way to the clubhouse.

Since the coronavirus shut it down for golfing, though, the course has morphed into a public park, a place to run, fish, walk my dog, sit in the grass, and look at geese, great blue herons, whitetail deer, the sunset. It’s been a place to clear my head, to end the day with a beer in my hand beside my wife. At night, the stars look brighter.

My wife has spent even more time there than I have. “I took a lot of pictures of turtles,” she said.

One of the many turtle photos the author's wife took at the empty golf course near their home.
Anna Lockhart
One of the many turtle photos the author's wife took at the empty golf course near their home.

On nicer days during the pandemic, I’d see close to a hundred people on the course, young and old, doing the same things, not to mention rogue golfers who decided to play there anyway. In the past, I’d only run on the course at night, and I stopped when I sprained an ankle on a branch. I’ve visited the bar at the clubhouse every now and then, and in the winter, when it snows, the course’s hills have long been a destination for sledding. Golf course management never tried to stop the sledding, and didn’t come after any of us for breaking the rules during the pandemic.

Someone used a black marker to write “No walkers!” on a sign there recently.

I knew this small nirvana was fleeting. New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy announced that golf clubs and state parks will reopen Saturday (Pennsylvania golf courses can reopen Friday). My wife says she’s going to try to nudge her way onto the course anyway, but I don’t think it will be possible. In an ideal world, the course would close one day a week for the people who live here, but that’s not how capitalism works. I get it. I’ll try to get back to the trails I know, where I won’t get hit in the head by a golfer’s bad slice.

In a photo from a snowy winter past, sledders climb a hill at Valleybrook Country Club in Camden County.
Akira Suwa / File Photograph
In a photo from a snowy winter past, sledders climb a hill at Valleybrook Country Club in Camden County.

Seeing this closed golf course as something positive comes from a place of privilege, too. I know that. My wife and I remain employed during the pandemic, and I’m grateful for that. Hundreds of people will be going back to work at this course and others all over the state, and that is a good thing, a steady crawl toward normalcy. Someday, the bridesmaids will be back on the greens getting photos done, and banners will advertise “Breakfast With Santa” at the clubhouse. If it ever snows again, sledders will return.

My friends have been desperate to get back on the links (I don’t know what “links” are) and rejoiced when they got the news. I don’t begrudge them.

“Anybody wanna try to get a tee time this weekend?” one of them texted.

That text wasn’t meant for me. Plus, I’ll be fishing all day.