Americans finding ways to stay active while keeping distance

Vicki L. Friedman always wanted to play golf with her adult sons but until this spring couldn’t find time to learn the game and practice.

Shaun Warkentin was looking for a diversion when his young sons tired of jumping on the backyard trampoline and being indoors. He discovered the joy of taking them fishing.

Neighborhood and park trails across the country have been getting higher-than-usual use by runners, walkers and bicyclists as people find ways to get fresh air while maintaining social distancing during the coronavirus outbreak.

Golf courses are welcoming more beginners and people returning to the game, states have seen robust sales of fishing licenses since the coronavirus hit full force in the U.S. in March and fitness tracking technology has shown a surge in the number of steps recorded.

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Friedman, who lives in Chesapeake, Virginia, took up golf at age 54 after the community college where she works ordered employees to do their jobs from home. That gave her more than an extra hour a day she otherwise would spend commuting.

“When you see what’s happening around the world, you prioritize and ask yourself what are some of the things you want to do,” she said. “I’ve always been geared toward work. Right now you want to invest in yourself. What else do I want to do that is fun?”

Friedman goes to the driving range a couple of times a week, hits plastic wiffle golf balls in her backyard and, as a Mother’s Day gift from her son, went to a course for the first time and was treated to nine holes. She said on a recent afternoon she was about to play her fourth round in three weeks with the set of used clubs she bought for $30.

“This is a way we can spend time together outside,” she said. “It’s something new. I like sports, and it’s fun. It is more addicting than I would have ever dreamed.”

Through last week, rounds posted to the GHIN handicap-tracking app were up 22% this May compared with May 2019, according to the USGA. Posted rounds were up 8% for the year.

CommonGround in Aurora, a Denver-area facility operated by the Colorado Golf Association, reported almost 4,800 rounds played on its 18-hole course in April, compared with just over 3,100 the same month in 2019. The number of rounds played on its nine-hole course for beginners wasn’t available, but revenue from green fees was more than double what it was in April 2019, and for the first time reservations were required to ease congestion on the first tee.

National Golf Foundation president and CEO Joe Beditz said he’s hearing similar reports from around the country.

“Courses are seeing people they haven’t seen before or seen very much of,” he said. “They’re seeing husbands and wives plays, parents and kids. It’s kind of surprising to them because even with some restrictions in states, they are still finding themselves to be busier than a similar time of past years.”

Minnesota’s fishing permit sales of 354,080 from mid-February to the first week of May were up 45% over a comparable period in 2019 and the highest since 2000. Vermont had issued 21,270 permits through April, up 57%. Missouri for one month waived the requirement that anglers have a permit so residents could have a diversion during the pandemic.

“If there is a bright spot in this horrible COVID-19 tragedy, it’s the unprecedented interest from fathers, mothers, grandparents, aunts and uncles all wanting to take their family out to enjoy nature,” Bass Pro Shops founder and CEO Johnny Morris said in a statement.

Warkentin said he’s taken his sons Noah, 8, and Joe, 5, to fishing holes in and around Omaha, Nebraska, four or five times since school let out in March. Even on a chilly, windy day, they were at Carter Lake wetting their lines.

“We’re trying to get out, get some fresh air and learn some new skills,” Shaun said shortly before helping Joe reel in a tiny sunfish. “We’re kind of new to fishing. I’ve fished most of my life, but these guys haven’t done that much. It’s a cheap way to get outside and do something different.”

On a nearby bank, Lotplar Laywah of Omaha was wearing a facemask while fishing with his children and their cousins. The truck driver had no loads to deliver, so he suggested to the kids that they try fishing.

“The kids, all they do is watch TV and then they start fighting with one another and causing trouble, and mom really has to yell at them,” Laywah said. “So we go fishing.”

The simplest activities, like running and walking, are apparently popular, based on data generated by Garmin fitness tracker apps. Garmin reported steps recorded by U.S. walkers logging their activity was up 36% when comparing the first half of March with the second, when coronavirus-caused lockdowns began. Worldwide, logged activities like walking and running were up 24% in April compared with the same month in 2019.

Jean Knaack, executive director of the Road Runners Club of America, said the numbers reflect a combination of avid runners logging more miles than usual and people who aren’t regular runners giving it a try.

“I think if you look at community chatter, which isn’t super scientific, I would say most definitely there has been an uptick in running and walking during this pandemic, especially with places for exercise having been closed down like swimming pools, private gyms, public recreation spaces, basketball courts,” she said.

“I’ve lived in my neighborhood for 15 years and I’m like, ‘Who are all these people who are all over walking around and running around this neighborhood?’ I think it’s a sign people want to get out of their house, but I think people have a desire to run and exercise, and now they’re just afforded that time right now, even though that’s not the greatest way to get time, what we’ve all been going through.”

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AP Sports Writer Steve Megargee contributed to this report.

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