No longer carrying clubs for golfers, “forward caddies” are being trained to run out in front of groups to spot balls, repair ball marks, replace divots and rake bunkers. Also in this report: Pool regulations vary from state to state; relaxed restrictions see the opening of practice facilities and shortening of tee-time intervals; the University of Michigan takes a methodical approach to reopening its golf courses; and an Ivy League school joins the growing list of programs to cut golf from its list of varsity sports.
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/.
New Roles for Caddies
The 35 high schoolers caddying this summer at CommonGround Golf Course in Aurora, Colo. will have an easier go of it than their alumni brethren: They won’t have to lug the bag around the course for four hours, BusinessDen reported. Ed Mate, CEO of the Colorado Golf Association, said the program needed to eliminate contact during the pandemic. They won’t be carrying the bag because there can’t be any contact, he said. And they’ll have a new title: “Forward caddie.”
“We’ve revised the playbook,” Mate said. “They’ll be walking with the group and then run out in front, spotting balls, repairing ball marks, replacing divots.”
Mate told BusinessDen that the forward caddies should help speed up rounds at the course. Each foursome of golfers that want them will have two forward caddies, he said.
“The biggest loss of time is ball searches,” he said. “We’ll teach these kids the art of where to be in position to watch the ball down, to spring to the ball. It can be really fun. And I think they’ll enjoy the challenge.”
“It’s a more interesting job than being a pack mule.”
Mate said each caddie will carry fanny packs with towels, a yardage laser, a collapsible rake for the bunkers and hand sanitizer, BusinessDen reported. They’ll help maintain the course with a ball mark repair tool and sand seed bottle.
“The caddies will care for the course as an ambassador,” Mate said.
The high schoolers are paid $1,200 for the summer, and must caddie three days per week and attend leadership training, BusinessDen reported.
The CGA has run the Solich Caddie & Leadership Academy since 2012. Founder George Solich told BusinessDen in 2015 that he wanted to help bring back the craft of caddying and provide work experience for Denver-area teens who might not otherwise set foot on a golf course.
Graduates of the program often go on to be caddies at prestigious golf clubs such as Denver Country Club and Cherry Hills Country Club, BusinessDen reported. And they can compete for an Evans Scholarship, which provides a full ride to the University of Colorado.
Mate said about 15 percent of kids who start the caddie program earn the scholarship, BusinessDen reported.
“It’s not the only reason to do it,” Mate said, “But it sure is a validating pot of gold.”
Pool Rules Vary
All licensed public, private swimming pools in metro Detroit remain closed, but pools across Pennsylvania have been given the green light to open.
—As warm summer days descend upon metro Detroit, you can forget about taking a cool dip in the municipal pool or even at the one operated by your neighborhood association, the Detroit Free Press reported. Under orders issued May 28 by local health departments, all licensed public and private swimming pools in metro Detroit are to remain closed until further notice because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Health departments in Michigan’s Detroit, Macomb, Oakland and Wayne counties each issued a public health order requiring all swimming pools licensed by each jurisdiction to remain closed indefinitely, the Free Press reported. Licensed pools include those in apartments, condominiums, hotels, private clubs and neighborhood associations.
Bill Mullan, spokesman for the Oakland County Executive’s office, said the order covers pretty much everything but backyard pools, the Free Press reported. In Oakland County, alone, it covers 940 indoor and outdoor pools, he said.
Other recreational pools include dive pools, wave pools and water slide pools, according to a news release issued May 28 on behalf of all four government entities, the Free Press reported. Therapy pools used strictly for treatment in health care settings are excluded from the closure.
The orders are issued under the Michigan Public Health Code to safeguard residents from potential transmission of the virus, the Free Press reported. Pool operators will be required to continue scheduled maintenance in accordance with the Michigan Administrative Rule, according to the release.
—Pennsylvania pools will be allowed to open this summer as the region eases coronavirus mitigation restrictions, but the preparations needed to keep swimmers safe could keep some facilities in Allegheny County closed, the Pittsburgh Tribune-Review reported.
“Even under the best of circumstances, in non-covid years, we always struggle to find enough lifeguards to be able to staff the pools,” County Executive Rich Fitzgerald said. “This will add special challenges with physical distancing—with locker rooms, snack bars, in areas where people congregate.”
County officials are not yet ready to make a call on whether the four pools and two spray parks operated by the county will open, Fitzgerald told the Tribune-Review.
Gov. Tom Wolf issued new guidance May 29 that said pools in Pennsylvania would be allowed to operate in the yellow and green phases of the state’s plan as long as the facilities followed guidance issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the Tribune-Review reported. The CDC guidance applies to “public aquatic venues” including public pools, hot tubs and water playgrounds managed by city or county governments, apartment complexes, membership clubs like gyms, schools, water parks and homeowners’ associations. But it leaves decisions about reopening pools up to local officials.
The CDC has said there is no evidence coronavirus can spread to people through water in pools, hot tubs or water playgrounds, the Tribune-Review reported.
—Clubs and courses continue to benefit from more relaxed restrictions.
Golf courses in Maine now are closer to operating at full capacity, the Portland Press Herald reported. The state’s COVID-19 guidelines for golf were updated May 27 with several significant changes. Courses were allowed to reopen May 1, but at that time, golfers had to play only in the county where they lived or at a private club in which they held membership; driving ranges, putting greens, clubhouses and pro shops were closed; and golfers were strongly encouraged to arrive just in time to play and then leave promptly.
The May 27 updates allow courses to open their driving ranges and pro shops for retail sales, the Press Herald reported. Golfers who are Maine residents can now play any course in the state. Out-of-state golfers must continue to self-quarantine for 14 days before playing. Also removed from the guidelines were previous stipulations that golfers stayed in their car until 10 minutes before their tee time, and a mandatory 12-minute wait between groups teeing off.
“We’ve had a good month and I think golf course owners and operators have done a really good job abiding by the guidelines, and as a result the state is working with us on a couple of the restrictions that we think we can manage,” said Brian Bickford, the Executive Director of the Maine State Golf Association.
Removing the county residency helps courses that are near county borders, in particular, and will allow courses to host MSGA weekly events, the Press Herald reported.
“Our members have been able to play and we’ve had plenty of business, but I’m happy we won’t have to stress about that anymore,” said A.J. Kavanaugh, the Director of Golf at Brunswick Golf Club. “We’re set to host an MSGA play day on June 5 and 6 and a qualifier for the Maine State Amateur the next week, and as far as I’m concerned, now we’re good to go.”
Bickford confirmed that the Maine State Amateur will be held July 7-9 at Biddeford-Saco Country Club, the Press Herald reported. Four qualifying tournaments will be held between June 9-18.
Bickford said other key changes to the state’s COVID-19 regulations involved opening up the driving range and putting greens and allowing courses to set their own tee time intervals, the Press Herald reported. For some courses, that will mean a return to having groups tee off eight minutes apart. That could increase golfer volume by 50 percent over each two-hour window, from a maximum of 40 players (10 foursomes) to 60 players (15 foursomes).
Opening driving ranges adds revenue to the courses, the Press Herald reported.
“It was very nice to see people hitting balls and practicing their putting and chipping,” Kavanaugh said. “We expanded our practice area a few years ago and it’s become a very vital part to our revenue stream, and to have that closed for a month and a half … has been tough.”
Jerry Diphilippo, the Head Professional at Fox Ridge Golf Club in Auburn, Maine, is happy to be opening the practice facilities, the Lewiston Sun Journal reported.
“I think we are going in the right direction, opening up the range and the practice areas, that will be big,” Diphilippo said. “It’s going to help out quite a bit. I have a lot of members who like to go hit balls, and obviously [non-members] wanting to hit balls before they play. It’s revenue so, you really need it open — also giving lessons, I will be able to give lessons over there.
“It’s going to be big. I know some golf courses it’s a lot more revenue than others, but it’s definitely a plus for sure.”
As for tee times, Diphilippo told the Sun Journal that Fox Ridge is sticking with 12 minutes between groups, for now.
“I haven’t really thought about it too much yet,” Diphilippo said. “We are at 12 minutes now with our tee times, and our tee times before that were 10 [minutes]. That basically be an extra tee time per hour for us. I guess we will most likely go back to 10 [minutes]; 12 was pretty good, it spreads out people a little bit more, which has made a difference. … I think we will probably end up going back to 10 [minutes]. Whether we do it next week or not, I am not 100% sure.”
Another change made was to the rule of one golfer per golf cart. Earlier this month, that was amended to allow two people from the same household to share a cart, the Press Herald reported. Going forward, two people who are not household members can share a cart if the course installs a plexiglass barrier between the driver and the rider. Kavanaugh said he plans to outfit all of Brunswick’s carts with the plexiglass divider.
Both Kavanaugh and Bickford said the demand for golf has been high during the pandemic, the Press Herald reported.
“Most courses are reporting [an increase] between 30 and 50 percent over last year. But, in fairness, last year was a terrible spring,” Bickford said, adding that courses with an established junior golf program have also seen a spike in younger players.
Further, golf courses can open up their restaurants as long as they meet the regulations set within their county, the Press Herald reported. For courses in Cumberland, York and Androscoggin, that means indoor dining remains closed, but patrons can be served at outside seating. For the rest of the state, the dining room can be opened if social distancing guidelines are met.
“It used to be park, play and go home,” Bickford said. “Now it’s basically, park, play, and social distance with no big gatherings.”
Bickford said the current restrictions on gatherings, which will increase from 10 to 50 people on June 1, still will make it difficult for courses to hold larger events, like weddings and charity golf tournaments, the Press Herald reported. Similar to many other businesses, some golf courses also rely on summer tourists to fill their fairways.
“The 14-day quarantine is a crusher for many of our daily fee courses that rely on a lot of out-of-staters to play,” Bickford said.
In Pennsylvania, Lebanon (Pa.) Country Club’s PGA Golf Professional Christian Sheehan told LebTown it’s still a difficult season for courses and clubs due to restrictions on large gatherings of people.
Golf courses are expected to have more operating flexibility now that Lebanon County has been officially moved to the “Yellow Phase,” a change that occurred as of May 29, LebTown reported. In the yellow phase, in-person operations are allowed to resume so long as courses comply with the Gov. Tom Wolf administration’s April 15 order requiring businesses to take certain measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as insisting that customers wear masks. However, according to guidance by the Pennsylvania Golf Course Owners Association, course employees are still required to telework when possible and clubhouse and restaurant operations will remain limited, with dine-in service prohibited. Pro shops, however, should be able to resume retail operations.
—On May 1, the University of Michigan Golf Course and the course at Radrick Farms both opened for the season, one week after Governor Gretchen Whitmer allowed golf courses across the state to begin operations, mgoblue.com reported. Simply allowing players back was not that easy. After news of the governor’s order came down, many neighboring courses opened back up the next day. U-M took its time … because it had to.
“We wanted to do it right,” said Rob Rademacher, Executive Senior Associate AD and Chief Operating Officer for Michigan Athletics. “The reason for our pause was to make sure that everybody involved was moving in the same direction, that we could do this and do it right. Nobody said no.
“I think there’s a public good to it of us opening. You know what, if we can safely provide some recreational opportunities for the community and it’s legal and safe, why wouldn’t we partake in it?”
Many facets of the university had a say in the decision, from Environment, Health & Safety (EHS) to medical personnel to legal counsel, mgoblue.com reported. Once the decision to open was made, the next step was to determine what additional guidelines needed to be added to ensure safety for both players and employees.
Rademacher went to Corbin Todd, Director of the University of Michigan Golf Courses, to figure out what a golf round looks like for a customer in a social-distancing world, mgoblue.com reported. They fielded suggestions from their own staffs, bounced ideas off groundskeepers at other golf courses around the state and around the Big Ten Conference, and ran every single suggestion by EHS.
Darryl Conway, Senior Associate AD and Chief Health & Welfare Officer for Michigan Athletics, also provided input to Rademacher around the “return to work” piece for employees, mgoblue.com reported. Todd has his employees wear masks if they are indoors in close proximity to others. If they are outside, they work staggered shifts and are assigned to specific areas to prevent multiple people from using the same piece of equipment or machinery.
During the lockdown, Todd and his staffs were doing basic, minimal operations to uphold the value of the courses so they would be ready to go when they were given the green light, mgoblue.com reported. Some bunkers that were earmarked for upgrades were not finished. Greens were cut only once or twice per week.
Every day brings changes and new questions with it, mgoblue.com reported. One of the big ones—food service—was resolved as of May 22. The Petrovich Grill at the UMGC began serving a variety of grab-and-go items from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m.
In a normal year, an estimated 50,000 rounds are played between the two courses, mgoblue.com reported. The weather this spring, combined with the restrictions implemented by the stay-at-home order, ensured that the season started later. They may not reach that mark this year, but so long as progress continues to be made and the demand remains, Todd figures they will not lose that many rounds.
John Deere Classic Canceled
—Citing ongoing local and state-related challenges related to gathering restrictions, the John Deere Classic, title sponsor John Deere and the PGA TOUR announced that the 2020 tournament, scheduled for July 9-12 at TPC Deere Run in Silvis, Ill., has been canceled. It is set to return to the PGA TOUR schedule in 2021 with its 50th playing.
As a result of this decision, the PGA TOUR announced that it will fill the week vacated by the John Deere Classic with a new tournament. The TOUR will provide details in the near future on the venue and location.
“Because of the ongoing health and safety concerns related to the coronavirus pandemic, the difficult decision was made to cancel the 2020 John Deere Classic,” said Tournament Director Clair Peterson. “While we considered several alternatives for the Classic, this was the choice that made the most sense for our guests, the players and the Quad City community at large.”
“We understand and respect that the Quad Cities market has dynamics and challenges that prevent the playing of the John Deere Classic in 2020,” said Andy Pazder, PGA TOUR Chief Tournaments and Competitions Officer. “As we’ve seen through the years, the community support for the John Deere Classic is unwavering and I have no doubt the event will return stronger than ever in its 50th playing in 2021.”
Despite the cancellation, the John Deere Classic will continue its Birdies for Charity fundraiser for 2020. Last year, $13.8 million was generated in support of 543 local and regional charity organizations, bringing the tournament’s all-time total to $120 million since the first playing in 1971. Ninety-nine percent of that has come since John Deere assumed title sponsorship in 1998.
—The Ivy League’s Brown University became the latest to trim its golf programs, eliminating both the men’s and women’s teams among 11 sports that were cut, Golf Digest reported. Athletics Director Jack Hayes said 150 student-athletes and seven coaches would be affected by the changes, with $500,000 in funding being moved from the eliminated sports to those that were kept.
The loss of the golf teams at Brown follows the elimination earlier this month of men’s golf at the University of Akron in Ohio, and the cutting of men’s golf at St. Edwards University in Austin, Texas, Golf Digest reported. The decision on which sports would be eliminated at Brown was made by the school’s Committee of Excellence in Athletics.
“They were looking at facilities issues, natural advantages and history of success,” Brown President Christina H. Paxson said in a statement. “What are the teams—if we make the right investments—that can really be great?”
The Bears men’s golf team, coached by Michael Hughes, listed eight players on its 2019-20 roster, including four seniors. In four tournaments before the coronavirus pandemic shut down all NCAA sports, Brown’s best finish was ninth in the Hamptons Intercollegiate in October, Golf Digest reported. The home course for the men’s team was Metacomet Golf Club, which has been a site of controversy since PGA Tour player Brad Faxon and associates purchased it in 2019. The women’s golf team was coached by Jackie Beck and there were nine players listed on the current roster, including one senior. In five starts in 2019-’20, the Bears posted a best finish of second in the Sacred Heart Fall Classic.