While most of everything else continues to close down due to the coronavirus pandemic, golf courses are still maintaining — though precautions continue to ramp up at both public and private courses.
Playing golf in small groups stretched out over acres of land would seem to be the safest way to practice social distancing while still enjoying a sport, but within that activity there are still plenty of things to consider.
“I keep reading stuff about how golf courses are the safest place to be,” said Jimmy Harrison, club pro at Sleepy Hollow Golf Club in Hurricane, West Virginia. “I don’t know how true that is when you think about employees, and there are a lot of things people don’t think about. Touching steering wheels on golf carts, touching the flagstick on every hole, sticking your hand in the holes — it may not be as safe as everyone thinks it is.”
To combat those concerns, courses have taken action.
Sleepy Hollow, along with Berry Hills Country Club in Charleston, have started raising cups out of the ground in an effort to prevent golfers from having to reach in the hole to get their ball. Any putt that makes contact with the raised cup is counted as in.
Edgewood Country Club in Sissonville, meanwhile, has devised its own system. Cut pool noodles are placed inside the cup, leaving about a half-inch of space from the lip of the hole. That allows balls to settle in but not drop to the bottom, meaning golfers can easily retrieve their balls without having to reach into the hole itself.
While other courses have stayed open through the spread of the coronavirus, Edgewood closed Tuesday and Wednesday. Club pro Craig Berner said extensive efforts were done over that two-day period to make sure the facility was as clean as possible.
“We kind of cleaned the facility out, took some extra precautions and locked some stuff up,” Berner said. “We’ve put out more hand sanitizer. We went through the whole building and scrubbed everything down with Comet and Lysol.”
Across the board, the cleaning of carts has become a top priority both before and after use. Also, restaurants/bars located in the facilities have either closed or been limited to takeout only.
Efforts are also being made to keep crowds down inside clubhouses. Sleepy Hollow has shut down its practice facilities and its indoor simulator while Edgewood’s driving range and chipping area weren’t scheduled to open until March 31.
The situation is obviously a fluid one and each course is looking to others in terms of future guidelines to follow. Harrison said the board at Sleepy Hollow is meeting this weekend to hash out plans.
“We’re taking it day by day,” Harrison said. “We’ve started talking about going to just one person per cart and that’s something I think you’ll start to see happen. Our bag guys are constantly cleaning door handles, seats and steering wheels and we’re talking about members not having bag service anymore at all.”
Despite the adjustments, business has seemed to be largely unaffected by the virus, although rainy weather during the week has limited play somewhat. The safe bet seems to point at golf continuing to be a viable option as long as it remains the only show in town.
“We had a good crowd on Wednesday,” said Gerald Burgy, director of public works for the city of South Charleston and the director of golf at Little Creek Golf Course. “They say being outside is a good thing, and we are seeing that.”
“Honestly, you couldn’t be any place safer,” added Barry Evans, golf pro at Berry Hills Country Club.