(Photo by Stan Grossfeld/The Boston Globe)
Great weather combined with player demand to fill up tee sheets at clubs and golf courses around the U.S. during the first weekend of the national coronavirus emergency. But state- and federally mandated shutdowns forced some to close, despite their desire to provide an opportunity for a much-need respite and recreational outlet for those who had been confined to their homes.
Presidents Golf Course in Quincy, Mass. was seen by many as a “paradise” and 18-hole sanctuary from the coronavirus scare on Saturday, March 14th, The Boston Globe reported. Everyone was smiling on the 93-acre course that offers an inspiring bird’s-eye view of Boston, even after blown tap-ins and sliced drives.
One golfer said he felt as if he just got a “get out of jail card,” and another confessed to seeking a break from his germophobe wife, The Globe reported. Most said it was a thrilling return to normalcy.
But word was soon passed among the staff that the municipal golf course would be closed the next day until further notice because of the coronavirus pandemic, The Globe reported, and the course was already taking precautions to minimize contamination and infection risks.
Golf carts were banned, which led some players to object and cancel their tee times, but those slots were quickly taken, and the 52-degree day was a sellout, The Globe reported.
In the pro shop there was a “wipe and swipe” sign at the checkout counter, and employees cleaned all common areas regularly.
There was even new etiquette on the course, The Globe reported—players were asked not to touch or remove the flagstick, and signs encouraged them to maintain social distance and use “hands-free” celebrations for birdie putts that dropped.
In the clubhouse, the bar at The View Restaurant and Tavern was doing a brisk business, and most of the golfers took the closing in stride, The Globe reported. But some were upset.
The golf Saturday was “awesome,” but the closing “stupid,” Kevin Barry of Quincy, told The Globe.
“I think they are overdoing it,” Barry said. “This is a golf course—it’s probably the safest place in the world, it’s outside, away from everyone. It’s dumb.”
A season-pass holder at Presidents GC, Barry said he understood some of the precautions like no golf carts, and didn’t mind walking the course.
Michael Mullen, Director of Norfolk County (Mass.), which oversees the club, said in a phone interview with The Globe that the decision to close the course was made “under an abundance of caution and following the trend we are seeing across the Commonwealth [of Massachusetts} and the country.
“We will be constantly reassessing as we go along, as the public health situation continues to evolve,” Mullen added.
Told that some golfers thought the closing was overdoing it, Mullen was unperturbed, The Globe reported. “We take our obligation as a governmental entity and our responsibility to the public all very seriously,” he said.
The View Restaurant and Tavern, inside the clubhouse, reluctantly decided to close as well, The Globe reported.
“People assume that when the golf course is closed, we’re closed, so we are going to go with the golf course decision, to be safe rather than sorry,” General Manager Bill Fraser told The Globe, while expressing concern about the effect of the closing on his staff and the economy.
The closing meant that students from North Quincy High and Fontbonne Academy would not be able to work jobs at the course, The Globe reported.
The golfers at the bar drank Bud Lite and drowned their sorrows, The Globe reported. “A lot of the golfers are angry,” Fraser said. “But they also understand it’s an unfortunate situation. So there are two sides to it. They’re mad that they can’t play golf, but they understand the situation.”
Out on the course, no one worried about their handicaps, and some deliberately didn’t peek at their cellphones, The Globe reported. It was old-fashioned golf, a throwback to another era.
“It’s freakin’ great,” said Zach Field of Amesbury, Mass. as he climbed the hill to the 4th hole and had a bird’s-eye view of the Boston skyline, while hoisting a Harpoon beer. “I’m not thinking about the virus.”
Ryan Acone, of East Boston, Mass., also said he was grateful for the break and all the safety precautions.
“They are doing everything on God’s green earth they can do and still accommodating people,” Acone said. “It’s a good escape to be out in Mother Nature and be social and not touching stuff and not at risk. Here you can still feel a sense of normalcy, because if you’re just inside, you are going to get stir crazy,” he said.
David Deuren told The Globe he was grateful to play, even for just one round. “It was great to get outside, but I’m really worried about [the virus],” he said.
Randal Sklar was just savoring every moment.
“I’m having a blast out here today,” he said. “I’m not mad. It’s their call, but it is upsetting. It’s tough, a golf course seems like a pretty safe place to be and now you can’t even come out here, so it looks like we will be stuck inside for a little bit. I’ll stay inside, have a couple of drinks and watch Netflix.”
The East Mountain Country Club in Westfield, Mass. was still open, station WWLP 22 News of Chicopee, Mass. reported, but was taking further safety precautions.
“We’ll take some extra measures to keep things clean and use disinfectants,” Ted Perez, co-owner of the club, told the station. “Like I said, golf carts and steering wheels, but besides that its business as usual.”
There were still many golfers at East Mountain CC on Sunday, March 15th, and they told WWLP they weren’t at all that concerned and were just planning to use the extra time caused by work slowdowns to play the sport they love.
“I love golf, I haven’t thought much about the coronavirus,” Dennis Boldyga of Great Barrington, Mass. told WWLP. “It’s a beautiful day and we are down here playing. We’re down here because Berkshire County is basically closed [and] golf courses there are not open yet.”
Station WKBN of Youngstown, Ohio reported that Reserve Run Golf Course in Poland, Ohio was enjoying steady play with no plans of shutting down.
“Given what’s going on, obviously we’re taking precautions on our side as much as we can, Michael Ferranti, PGA General Manager at Reserve Run and The Links at Firestone, told WKBN. “From the pro shop standpoint, we’ve taken extra precautions to wipe down all the common areas multiple times per day,” Ferranti said.
“As far as the actual golf goes, being out on the golf course and being separated from people for a while, it’s a great escape from what’s going on and a great time to get some fresh air and to get some exercise as well,” Ferranti added.
Local courses always get a huge boost following the Masters Tournament every year, Ferranti noted, and while that likely won’t be the case this season after the Masters’ announcement on Friday March 13 of an indefinite postponement (https://clubandresortbusiness.com/93673-2/), he was still holding out hope that a round of golf could be seen as good medicine once the crisis subsides.
“It’s a great way to get outside and get some fresh air and not have to worry about what’s going on for a few hours,” Ferranti notes. “It’s definitely something to do now that there are no games on TV.”
Nine Springs Golf Course in Fitchburg, Wis. instituted an “honor box” system to allow play during the pandemic, WKOW of Madison, Wis. reported.
People were allowed to drop $10 in the box and then play the nine-hole executive course as much as they wanted throughout the day, without interacting with course workers.
Disc golf was also available for $5 a day, WKOW reported.
With all of the school closures in the area, families shouldn’t be stuck inside all day, Course Operator Daniel Larsen told WKOW.
“When it comes down to it, they need to be outside, they need to get exercise,” Larsen said. “Fresh air, I think, is going to be the best thing for families to keep their morale up.”
The doors were still open at the golf course buildings, but only for those who felt comfortable going inside, WKOW reported.
In Michigan, The Detroit News reported, it was not yet clear how the state’s golf industry planned to immediately react to the coronavirus outbreak as spring and a new season approached.
Chris Whitten, Executive Director of the Golf Association of Michigan (GAM), of which most of Michigan’s courses are members, told The News that it was still up to the individual properties to decide how to proceed.
“It’s really up to them how they want to handle their day-to-day operations,” said Whitten, who added that he had heard from some courses, but knew of none that planned to close.
“The next two weeks is probably decision-making time,” Whitten added.
Michigan’s golf industry is a big one, with approximately 650 courses, fourth-most in the nation, The News reported. The state’s industry is valued at $4 billion or more, with estimates of a half-million regular players, along with tens of thousands of employees.
The first professional tournament scheduled for Michigan is the PGA Tour’s Rocket Mortgage Classic at Detroit Golf Club in late May, followed by the LPGA’s Meijer Classic in Grand Rapids in June, The News reported. The LPGA Tour was also scheduled to return to Michigan in mid-July for the Dow Great Lakes Bay Invitational in Midland, and the Champions Tour’s Ally Challenge is scheduled for late July in Grand Blanc.
Plans were still for the The Rocket Mortgage Classic to take place as scheduled, The News reported, despite the cancellations of all events on both the men’s and women’s tours leading up to the Masters.
The GAM hosts 31 championships from late April through early October, The News reported. Combined with its own tournament qualifiers, plus USGA qualifiers, it oversees 110 days of competition.
The first event is in late April—Junior Kickoff Days at Washtenaw Country Club in Ypsilanti, Mich. No events have been postponed or canceled as of yet, The News reported.
“We’ve got a little bit of time,” said Whitten, while also acknowledging that the GAM has countless volunteers to consider as well, with many of them in their 60s, 70s and 80s and among the most vulnerable to serious coronavirus complications.
“We’re in a position where we can just wait a little bit and see what’s going to happen,” Whitten added.
Kevin Helm, Executive Director of the PGA of Michigan, told The News that his organization is still planning on events taking place as scheduled. The section tournaments don’t begin until the last Monday in April.
“Things certainly can change between now, and then,” Helm said.
The PGA of Michigan oversees 31 championship events, including qualifiers for the Rocket Mortgage Classic and the Ally Challenge as well as the Michigan Open, which will have a record purse of $115,000 when it’s played June 8-11 on The Bear course at Grand Traverse Resort and Spa.
The PGA of Michigan has canceled its spring membership meeting that was scheduled for March 23, and two chapters’ spring meetings set for mid-April also have been postponed, The News reported.
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