With bans lifted across the country, a few courses in Colorado and New York must wait a little longer to open, because of spring weather’s effect on course conditions. Also in this report: “Theater of the Absurd” continues at Pawtucket CC; tips to re-function clubhouses in the post-COVID era; tennis advocates serve up their pitch for Massachusetts to lift its restriction on play; a minor-league pitcher waits for baseball’s return by working as a golf course starter; and the New Jersey Section of the PGA of America hosts an online auction to support relief efforts.
Here is C+RB‘s latest roundup and summary of club-related developments surrounding the pandemic that have recently been reported. Please send updates on what your property is doing that you would like to share with the C+RB community to [email protected].
All of C+RB’s daily updates on the coronavirus situation can be found at https://clubandresortbusiness.com/category/covid-19/.
Mother Nature Has Her Say
—While the ban on golf due to the COVID-19 pandemic has been listed across the country, courses in Colorado and New York have had to delay their openings for another reason—the weather.
Ryan Parr, General Manager of the Raven Golf Club at Three Peaks in Silverthorne, Colo., said the spring was hard on the course.
Parr and Head Club Professional Sam Zuckerman told the Summit Daily News the Raven has set a tentative opening date of June 1. Zuckerman said the later-than-usual opening date is not due to the coronavirus, but because more destructive-than-normal ice damage to the greens in mid-April when they took on water due to warm temperatures.
In Breckenridge, Colo., PGA Professional Erroll Miller said the Breckenridge Golf Club’s greens experienced similar ice damage in November when warm temperatures followed the copious October snowfall, the Daily News reported. Both courses now are placing tarps over their greens to prep the often-fickle short grass for opening days.
—In Buffalo, N.Y., the South Park Golf Course will open to the public starting May 13, WGRZ reported. While Gov. Andrew Cuomo lifted the state’s golf course’s from his “Pause” in mid-April, South Park had remained closed because the course was too wet to play. The course will now be open seven days a week, with course maintenance and closures posted on the Olmsted Parks Conservancy’s website.
“Theater of the Absurd” Continues at Pawtucket CC
As C+RB first reported on May 11, while Pawtucket (R.I.) Country Club is technically in Rhode Island, the majority of its property is located across the border in Massachusetts. The club has 90 acres of land, about 10 of which are actually in the Ocean State, the Providence Journal reported. A golfer’s first shot of the day takes place in Pawtucket, but the green on No. 1 is in Seekonk, Mass. This is where a confusing story begins.
COVID-19 regulations are wildly different between Rhode Island and Massachusetts and the restrictions on travel for non-essential people entering the Ocean State, the Journal reported. It’s been a problem for all clubs but more so for a club that’s technically a Rhode Island business, but largely situated in Massachusetts.
If you’re a Pawtucket Country Club member who resides in Rhode Island, you can play with a Bay State member, but your partner can only play the Mass. holes, which means Nos. 1, 10 and 18 are off limits, the Journal reported.
“It’s the theatre of the absurd,” PCC co-owner David Rampone said.
The legal loopholing is impressive to say the least, the Journal reported. It’s all within the parameters set forth by the neighboring states, both of which Rampone and co-owner Gary Reis have worked with to try and keep members happy and the club afloat.
The difference in regulations started with Massachusetts opting to keep golf courses completely closed during the COVID-19 outbreak, the Journal reported. Meanwhile, Rhode Island created tight regulations that allowed courses to remain open but banned various things, including players from out-of-state.
Pawtucket, like every other course in Rhode Island, told its out-of-state members, some of whom call the property their backyard, they were banned, the Journal reported. Rhode Island members were allowed mainly because no one from Massachusetts told the Rhode Island-based business to shut down.
A course having land in two states isn’t unique. Wentworth Hills Country Club in Plainville, Mass. has a sign welcoming golfers to Rhode Island for holes 14-16. Swansea (Mass.) Country Club sees its 12th, 13th and 16th hole trickle into Warren, R.I., the Journal reported. For most of the spring, these clubs had little to worry about because golf was banned in Mass. Even after Mass. Gov. Charlie Baker lifted his ban May 7— becoming the last state in the country to allow golf courses to open — it’s not like Raimondo was going to send in the troops to protect the borders on small parcels of land owned by Massachusetts businesses.
When the ban in Mass. was lifted—one day after Vermont and Maryland became the 48th and 49th states to allow golf—restrictions similar to Rhode Island’s were put in place, except out-of-staters were allowed to play, the Journal reported. This created an odd circumstance for Pawtucket, and Rampone and Reis wanted to see if they could find a way to allow their Massachusetts members to play without violating any rules set forth by the R.I. Department of Business Regulations.
After Baker’s announcement, the two co-owners worked with the DBR and the Rhode Island Golf Association to figure out what could be done, the Journal reported.
“We didn’t want to wing anything,” Rampone said. “… We didn’t even open [the club] for our own guys [from RI earlier in the spring] until we got the DBR’s approval to do it.”
May 8, an e-mail was sent to all Pawtucket Country Club members informing them Massachusetts members could play, the Journal reported. But those members would have to follow their home state’s regulations as well as Rhode Island’s, which meant Bay Staters couldn’t play in Rhode Island. Holes Nos. 1, 10 and 18 are partially in the Ocean State, so they were off limits.
So was the parking lot. Instead, Massachusetts members park on a road in Seekonk and walk through a gate next to a storage shed on the 10th hole, the Journal reported. Not exactly country-club accommodations, but Pawtucket’s never really been about that life.
“It’s blue-collar workers that made enough to do this for themselves. We have policemen, firemen, postal employees, salt-of-the-earth type of guys,” Reis said. “They all started a fund to help us pay our bills.”
This is a temporary fix. The common misconception of the golf industry is golf keeps everything going. It doesn’t, the Journal reported. Membership dues help, but with Pawtucket having nearly $1 million in overhead to keep the golf course in shape, it looks elsewhere to cover costs.
But that “elsewhere” is gone, the Journal reported. COVID-19 regulations have all but eliminated weddings and banquets and shotgun-style tournaments are banned. That’s a lot of missing revenue and whatever money Pawtucket can make from cart rentals—now allowed in Rhode Island—is better than nothing.
“Without any income, it’s a very difficult position for us,” Rampone said. “The fact we can generate some play and the fact our members can get out and enjoy themselves a little is our goal.”
Reis and Rampone say safety is important to them and they could operate safely if they were allowed to have all 18 holes open for all its members, the Journal reported. Both understand it’s hard for R.I. to make an exception and Reis and Rampone are adamant there will be no skirting the rules.
Buckeye State Losing Two Courses
—The city of Dayton, Ohio is closing two of its three golf centers permanently to cut costs, which comes after years of subsidizing the division with general fund dollars, the Dayton Daily News reported. Kittyhawk Golf Center in northeast Dayton and Madden Golf Course in southwest Dayton will be shut down for good because they are losing money and need millions of dollars in investment to remain competitive, city officials said.
Dayton is projecting an 18 percent shortfall in the general fund this year primarily because of lost income taxes due to the COVID-19 emergency, the Daily News reported. But the city’s golf courses were in financial trouble before the public health crisis and the city already was evaluating whether to close some facilities.
“Simply put, having the general fund support golf operations is an impossible scenario considering the significant loss of revenue and budget cuts underway,” said Dayton City Manager Shelley Dickstein.
Dayton has been in the golf business for more than a century, but in recent years, its golf division has bled money and has required subsidies because of reduced interest in the sport and other factors, the Daily News reported. Late last year, the National Golf Foundation completed a report examining the city’s golf operations that recommended the city invest between $7.9 million and $9.9 million in its three facilities.
The city operates half a dozen 18-hole golf courses at Kittyhawk Golf Center, Madden Golf Course and Community Golf Club, which is south of the city in Kettering, the Daily News reported. The foundation’s study determined the city’s golf courses would require a minimum subsidy of $7.5 million over the next five years, which would be a severe economic burden, said Dayton Mayor Nan Whaley.
About 20,000 people use the city’s golf courses each year, but only about 2,500 are Dayton residents, or less than 2 percent of the city’s population, Whaley told the Daily News. The city cannot continue subsidizing Madden and Kittyhawk, because it diverts money away from other important city services, especially at this critical juncture when the city is looking at 18 percent budget cuts across the board because of large revenue losses, Whaley said.
“For some, this might feel like a loss, but we are committed to making sure the city’s resources are being used in ways that benefit our residents most, particularly our young people and our seniors,” Whaley said.
Community Golf Course, the only city-owned golf course that makes money, accounts for nearly half of the golf system’s revenue and is located in a favorable, “golfer-rich” area, according to the foundation’s report and city officials, the Daily News reported. Kittyhawk and Madden have significant deficiencies, including outdated irrigation systems and clubhouse and support buildings, the report said. All three centers have significant issues with maintenance facilities and playing areas, as well as deteriorating bunkers, trees and water features.
Community first opened in 1918, while Madden opened in 1929 and Kittyhawk in 1961, the Daily News reported.
Dayton’s golf division is an enterprise fund that is supposed to be self-supporting and break even, meaning it does not require general fund money, Dickstein told the Daily News. But the division has needed general dollars money for years, including $50,000 in 2019, even though it was considered a good year for revenue and rounds played.
Breaking even became increasingly difficult in the golf division because of aging courses, deferred maintenance and rising operating expenses amid declining demand in the sport, Dickstein told the Daily News.
Reopening the six courses in compliance with social distancing and other COVID-19 protocols would require the city’s general fund to subsidize the operations to the tune of more than $500,000 for the remainder of 2020, Dickstein told the Daily News. During the COVID-19 crisis, the city decided to keep its golf centers closed even though the state allowed golf courses to operate as an outdoor recreation activity.
The city said its golf centers lacked the resources to actively monitor and manage social distancing to ensure safe operations to combat the spread of infection, the Daily News reported. Community, however, is expected to reopen soon once a plan is in place to operate it safely, and moving forward, the golf center is expected to produce surplus revenue that can be used to support recreational services, Dickstein said.
The future of Kittyhawk and Madden is unclear, but the city will evaluate potential reuse, though there are challenges, the Daily News reported. Kittyhawk sits on a wellfield, meaning residential and commercial redevelopment is out of the question. Madden’s proximity to a wastewater treatment plant occasionally results in odors that might hurt its appeal and reuse prospects.
The millions of dollars in needed investment and upgrades make it unlikely that a buyer would emerge who would want to continue using the properties for golf purposes, Dickstein told the Daily News. The city wouldn’t lease or sell the properties to a golf operator without a firm commitment to make upgrades, she said.
The COVID-19 Clubhouse
—Bill McMahon Sr., AIA, OAA, Chairman of the McMahon Group, offered thoughts about re-functioning clubhouses for COVID-19 design impact.
As clubs begin the reopening process for our clubhouses, they need to start with a new set of rules and regulations, he wrote. These rules and regulations will be different all over the country on aspects like dining seating capacity, table spacing and size, kitchen requirements, access and exit points, frequency of cleaning/disinfecting and so on.
Clubs will need to look at facilities and layouts through the eyes of a health inspector, even through the eyes of how to control the spread of infection in hospitals where they live with viruses and bacteria every day, he continued. It would seem wise for managers to develop a COVID re-functioning plan for their clubhouses and to be creative to adapt existing facilities quickly and inexpensively for our immediate reopening this summer and then more permanent this fall and winter.
A good facility use checklist for the COVID clubhouse re-functioning is as follows:
-Clubhouses will need controlled entrances and exits for members, staff and vendors. All other clubhouse access points will need alarms on them for violators, much like airports.
-Kitchens will need separate entries and exits to control soiled dish and flatware from infecting new food being served. Kitchen exhaust system in soiled plate washing area will need negative haul systems so the big, powerful cooking hoods don’t drag soiled food infection across freshly prepared food.
-Frequent cleaning of all clubhouse areas, especially restrooms and shower areas will be essential, as will be general cleaning and disinfecting of all touched areas.
-Indoor and outdoor dining areas will need to have wider table spacings, precautions on condiments areas, new serving techniques, special re-preparation of tables, maitre d’s controlling each dining room to maintain personal distancing, elimination of joint-use locker room amenities, etc. The list goes on and on.
-Employee locker rooms and dining areas will need re-programming and spacing with the same clean and soiled controls necessary to protect them.
Did You Know?
—Going from one socially distanced sport to another, tennis players want to see Massachusetts Gov. Charles Baker unlock their courts, too. An online petition called “Please Let Massachusetts Play Tennis!” has received more than 5,500 signatures.
“Tennis is one of the few game-centered sports that with limited modifications, can comply completely with the intent of the ‘Stay at Home’ designation and six feet social distancing,” the Change.org petition reads. “A tennis court is 78 feet long and tennis players rarely are even as close as 10-20 feet apart.
“Many states with Stay at Home advisories are allowing tennis to be played including our neighboring states of Connecticut, Maine, New Hampshire, and Vermont,” it continued.
As a solution, the petition asks the following:
*Allow public and private tennis clubs, and supervised non-club facilities, to open for playing (singles only with doubles soon to follow), and teaching private and semi-private lessons. Tennis clubs are uniquely positioned to ensure that safe policies are adopted.
*Tennis players will be required to wear masks while entering and leaving the courts but not when they are playing.
*Tennis players will not be permitted to congregate and socialize. Players will be required to arrive at most 15 minutes in advance of their scheduled court time and leave immediately when the court time expires.
*Players may each bring a can of their own tennis balls and play games when they are serving with their different numbered balls.
*Players will only be allowed inside the club house for court check-in and use of the toilet facilities.
*All financial transactions will be done via the telephone or virtual charging.
Strict adherence to all CDC guidelines relating to responsible social distancing will be required and monitored by club staff.
*Join with our neighboring states and allow Massachusetts residents to play tennis! Public and private tennis clubs can ensure compliance with the CDC requirements because they have been approved in other states successfully.
From Baseball to Golf
—Andrew Miller expected to be chasing his baseball dream this month in a distant minor-league town, building on the promise he felt last summer in his left arm, when throwing a baseball no longer brought pain, The Philadelphia Inquirer reported. The 23-year-old from South Jersey had Tommy John surgery after his sophomore year of college and passed on his final two years of eligibility at the University of Kentucky to sign in 2018 with the Miami Marlins after being a 40th-round pick.
But instead of a baseball field, Miller found himself working at Ramblewood Country Club, welcoming golfers as they arrive to the recently reopened course, The Inquirer reported. Ramblewood, a public course owned by Ron Jaworski, was cleared to reopen last weekend as long as golfers adhered to social distancing and other restrictions. It is the minor-leaguer’s job to outline those rules.
Parked in a golf cart out front, Miller greets customers as they arrive and stays six feet from their cars, The Inquirer reported. He uses an iPad to check golfers in for tee times they scheduled online, since each customer must now book times and pay fees before arriving.
Miller tells them to stay in their cars until 10 minutes before their start time, with groups staggered 15 minutes apart, The Inquirer reported. Only two golfers are allowed at a time on a tee box and all golfers must rent their own carts, unless they show Miller proof that they live together.
“Everyone has been following the rules,” Miller said. “Everyone has been wearing face masks to the course. Once they get on the course, it’s on their discretion. Golfers are happy. They’re happy to be out of the house and playing golf.”
When he’s not at Ramblewood, Miller conditions his arm by following a plan outlined by the Marlins, The Inquirer reported. He keeps in touch with the team’s medical staff and sends a weekly message to the pitching coaches, keeping them updated on his progress. There is growing confidence for a major-league season in 2020, but a traditional minor-league season would be unlikely without fans in the ballpark.
“All In Challenge”
—The New Jersey Section of the PGA of America (NJPGA) and its charitable arm, the New Jersey Golf Foundation (NJGF), have teamed-up with the New Jersey State Golf Association and Greenside Experiences to host the “All In Challenge,” an online auction to support COVID-19 relief efforts.
The live auction, which takes place through May 19, features rounds of golf at a selection of premier private golf clubs in New Jersey; lesson packages with accomplished PGA Teaching Professionals; golf equipment and merchandise; signed sports memorabilia and golf club membership packages, among others.
One hundred percent of the net proceeds will benefit the following charitable organizations: The Salvation Army of New Jersey, First Responders Children’s Foundation and the Father English Community Center in Paterson.
“We are committed to community support, and it’s refreshing to see so many PGA members step-up and participate in this initiative,” said Jason Fiore (Forest Hill Field Club) and Michael Holiday (Upper Montclair CC), Co-Chairs, NJPGA PR Committee. “This live auction reinforces that we are all in this together.”
“The NJGF’s mission is to positively impact lives and communities through the game of golf,” said Chris Hunt, Executive Director, New Jersey Golf Foundation. “In lieu of hosting programming for youth, military Veterans and individuals with special needs, due to COVID-19 social distancing measures, we recognize the need to pivot and support organizations within our community that could use our assistance during these unsettling times. This live auction is the perfect chance to raise funds and give back to those in need.”