ATHENS, GEORGIA | The connection between the University of Georgia and Yale University goes back more than a century. Abraham Baldwin – who wrote UGA’s charter in 1785 and served as its first president – was a 1772 Yale graduate and he imported building-design features on the school’s original North Campus as well as Georgia’s bulldog mascot from his alma mater.
Those foundational ties prompted Georgia to invite Yale to be the first football opponent to visit Sanford Stadium on Oct. 12, 1929 – two weeks before the stock market crash that sparked the Great Depression – with the southern Bulldogs prevailing, 14-0.
Ninety-one years later amidst another national crisis, the schools share another athletic feature – they apparently have the only two college-operated golf courses in the nation still closed because of the COVID-19 pandemic.
While most non-seasonal golf courses in the world have adapted with various restrictions and reopened to patrons, UGA Golf Course in Athens, and Yale Golf Club in New Haven, Connecticut, remain shuttered along with their respective schools. The closures have lasted more than 100 days and are likely to extend through at least the end of July.
Both institutions are sensitive to their choices to remain closed. A source at Yale called its university-wide decision to stay shuttered “an overabundance of caution,” and its website says “as COVID-19 guidelines regarding the opening of facilities at Yale University are established, the Yale Golf Course will remain closed through July 31, 2020.”
“We are focused on doing our part to ensure we help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Athens area.” – University of Georgia statement
The manager and superintendent at UGA Golf Course deferred all questions to the school’s marketing and communications department, which issued the following comments regarding the sustained closure.
“We are focused on doing our part to ensure we help slow the spread of the coronavirus (COVID-19) in the Athens area,” the university’s statement said. “In late April, the University of Georgia announced the establishment of nine working groups that were formed to evaluate a smooth transition to full operations at UGA. In order to support a successful reopening, we remained closed through this evaluation and are now focusing on reopening strategies that are based on UGA’s official plans for returning to campus as well as local, state, and national guidance.”
Georgia and Yale are in stark contrast to nearly every other public-access golf course in America, including other college-run facilities in the same states. Georgia Southern Golf Club reopened on May 22. Georgia Tech’s Noonan Golf Facility, an on-campus par-3 course and practice area, opened June 29 for student-athletes to use for voluntary workouts as part of Phase II of the school’s facilities reopening plan.
Review of more than 40 of the most prominent college-run courses in the U.S. found no other continued closures. Clemson’s Walker Course reopened on May 1. Notre Dame’s Warren Course reopened at the end of May. Stanford Golf Club reopened June 5. Williams College’s Taconic Golf Club in the Berkshires reopened June 29. Duke University Golf Club reopened to members, guests and school affiliates June 21, with full public access planned to resume Aug. 1. Virginia’s Birdwood Golf Course reopened on July 1 after an ambitious 18-month remodel by Davis Love III.
UGA has yet to set any date to reopen, although the plan is for students to return to campus Aug. 14 and resume in-person learning this fall.
“We are working closely with Auxiliary Services and the University to plan for a gradual reopening of our course facilities,” UGA’s statement said. “Our plan focuses on reopening the driving range first with the golf course, café, and golf shop to follow at a later time. It is our hope that golfers will be able to safely enjoy the driving range in the coming weeks, health conditions permitting.”
While both courses are closed, the similarities stop there. UGA Golf Course has remained meticulously maintained during the shutdown, with all hands – absent student workers – pitching in to keep the course in pristine condition.
“The golf course looks as good as I’ve ever seen it,” said longtime Georgia golf coach Chris Haack. “It’s amazing how good a golf course looks without cart traffic or ball marks or divots. I told our superintendent he’s got a little chance to see what it’s like to be the superintendent at Augusta National.”
Yale, however, has largely gone to seed with its small union-shop maintenance crew restricted to 10-percent hours while still getting paid full-time. The revered 1926 C.B. Macdonald/Seth Raynor design, consistently rated the No. 1 college course in America, has greens suffering from neglect and lack of consistent irrigation and the rough largely left untended during the shutdown. Pictures of the course’s current state have sparked disbelief and outrage on social media.
“When things hit quickly in the northeast, golf wasn’t a priority,” a source familiar with Yale’s situation said. “I don’t blame them, but it’s a shame.”
Haack said the closure hasn’t been a problem for his players, who have all been playing their respective hometown courses since UGA sent students home when it closed in mid-March. He expects them to be back to relative normal when school starts in the fall, with social distancing and sanitizing guidelines applied both on the course and in the team’s recently expanded clubhouse.
For local golfers, however, the closure of one of the most popular public recreational options in Athens has had substantial impact. UGA Golf Course typically remains vibrant year-round, with frequent outings scheduled weekly through the spring and summer.
“UGA has been affected financially and is actively working through those challenges,” the UGA spokesperson said.
While the Southeastern Conference is optimistically moving ahead with the intent of playing football this fall, the Ivy League will announce this week its plan for fall sports. Reports indicate the league is considering moving all sports, including football, to the spring. Golf will not conduct a fall schedule and could resume in the spring, giving Yale’s course more time to recover from its current pandemic state of neglect as grounds staff hours have increased. The club may only be accessible to the men’s and women’s team through the fall.
Top: The gates are locked tight at UGA Golf Course. Photo: Scott Michaux, Global Golf Post
See in-depth story on the history of Yale Golf Club by clicking HERE.
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