Everyone knows the professional game and the kind of golf played by average Joes and Janes are as different as jai alai and horseshoes. But the dichotomy between what’s happening on the ground in those two versions of golf has never been greater. And the gap is widening by the day.
As expected, more schedule disruptions became official this morning when the LPGA announced that the next five events have been postponed with four scheduled for later this year. The inaugural Pelican Women’s Championship in Belleair, Fla., originally scheduled for May 14-17, now will take place Nov. 12-15. The Pure Silk Championship at Kingsmill in Williamsburg, Va., on the schedule for May 21-24 won’t be played in 2020, but will return in 2021. The ShopRite LPGA Classic presented by Acer in Atlantic City, N.J., will move from May 29-31 to July 31-Aug. 2 and The Meijer LPGA Classic presented by Simply Give in Grand Rapids, Mich., originally scheduled for June 11-14, is postponed, although no reschedule date is set yet.
The USGA also announced U.S. Women’s Open week will move from June 1-7 to Dec. 7-13. It still will be contested at Champions Golf Club in Houston, Texas, but since December is the shortest daylight month of the year, both the Cypress Creek and Jackrabbit courses at Champions will be used, much like the USGA uses two courses for the stroke-play qualifications for its respective amateur championships.
Meanwhile, the PGA Tour, the USGA, the R&A and Augusta National Golf Club are in constant communication about when and how to restructure the rest of the 2020 professional season, including the U.S. Open and Open Championship. To their credit, golf’s decision makers – historically deliberate and tradition-laden – are demonstrating a nimble nature in working to plan the next eight months while keeping the professional game locked down until the worst of the virus passes.
But on the recreational side, club golf is a mess. Some courses are open and busier than ever while others nearby have been closed for weeks and show no signs of returning.
From the beginning of the crisis, club managers did their best to keep up, following CDC guidelines and listening to updates from the coronavirus taskforce. As governors and mayors got into the act, holding briefings and putting out mandates of their own, it has become much more difficult to follow all the evolving restrictions.
Some facilities in Tampa, Fla., for example, removed tennis nets, despite the fact that tennis is played by competitors between 10 to 80 feet apart. Almost 85 percent of the golf courses in California closed following that governor’s work-from-home order. Until now, Florida has been a mixed bag. Courses were closed in Miami but remained open north of Interstate 4, even at places like The Villages where the average age is 71. Golf in Maryland closed, but courses in Georgia and Alabama remained open and busy.
“No one is minimizing the seriousness of the virus. But if you engage in best practices – if you leave the flagsticks in, take out the rakes and coolers, increase the distance between hitting bays on the range, and sterilize your golf cars and range balls just like you would the dishes and cookware in your kitchen to avoid cross-contamination – golf is just as safe as walking your dog.” – Tim Dunlap
“It’s not enough to know the federal and state mandates, you have to be engaged with every city council and county manager,” said Tim Dunlap, a partner with Regent Golf, a small golf management company with properties in Georgia, North Carolina and California.
“No one is minimizing the seriousness of the virus,” Dunlap said. “But if you engage in best practices – if you leave the flagsticks in, take out the rakes and coolers, increase the distance between hitting bays on the range, and sterilize your golf cars and range balls just like you would the dishes and cookware in your kitchen to avoid cross-contamination – golf is just as safe as walking your dog. We certainly aren’t telling people to lock their doors and stay inside all day every day.
“If I’m understanding the guidelines correctly, social distancing is just that, keeping a healthy distance between you and other people and not congregating in close proximity. Golf allows for all of that while promoting exercise and good mental health.”
It should come as no surprise that the largest and most successful club management company, ClubCorp, led the way on developing those best practices. A note to ClubCorp members in the Southeast during the early days of the crisis read: “This is a quickly-evolving situation and we are continuously updating our business practices based on the information available. Golf courses provide acres of open space that allow social distancing, while providing you the opportunity to get fresh air and exercise doing what you love to do.
“The safety, health and well-being of our members, employees and communities remain top of mind during these challenging times. We constantly monitor the changing recommendations from local, state and national health and government organizations, and adjust our business practices as necessary.”
Players were encouraged to walk. Carts could only have one rider and were sterilized with hospital-grade disinfectant after each use. ClubCorp was the first national management company to turn cups upside down in the holes, making it easier to retrieve balls without touching the edges. The company was also the first to wedge the flagsticks in so that they couldn’t be removed.
“We hope you will continue to think of the course as your place to get away and relax,” the note from ClubCorp management read.
That was the case in some places. In others, golf was forbidden.
“I get it that some states are in worse shape than others, that some cities have higher rates of infection, and I understand that things are moving quickly and it’s tough for officials to think through every scenario, but golf is a good outlet,” Dunlap said. “It’s the one business and the one activity that politicians should be promoting, not shutting down.”
“We didn’t lay anybody off,” said Chris Cupit, the second-generation owner of Rivermont Golf Club in Roswell, Ga., referring to the club’s employees in the first few weeks of the crisis. “We closed the restaurant but had two stations on the golf course with carry-out service. I’m on the first tee checking people in. Until recently, the waitstaff, we had them painting the clubhouse and doing some projects that have been on the back burner for a while.”
Then, on April 1, Georgia governor Brian Kemp ordered all non-essential workers to shelter in place, an order that left golf operators wondering where mowing greens and protecting a multi-million-dollar asset fell on the “essential” scale.
Meanwhile, Dunlap and others like him are playing whack-a-mole trying to keep up with every city and state ordinance, even as those edicts change on a daily basis.
“It’s a nightmare,” Dunlap said. “I’m afraid some clubs, not ones we operate but ones I’ve seen, are not coming back. And that would be terrible.”
Top Photo: Copyright USGA
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