If you’re a sports fanatic in America, this has been a spring and summer of mostly doing without. How do you fill the void left by empty arenas and dark ballparks? Golf to the rescue.
Sounds easy enough. Golf is played outdoors. Social distancing shouldn’t be a problem. But, it’s not quite that simple. There are shared golf carts to consider, and then there’s a lot of handling of flagsticks, plus you normally come inside the pro shop to pay for your fees in what is often a pretty confined space. So golf professionals everywhere have had quite a lot to think through to create a safe environment for golfers.
Tom Szymoniak, in his first year as head golf professional at Illinois State University’s Weibring Golf Club, said he and his golf staff have been up to the many challenges and adapted well in order to serve the golfing public. There really wasn’t much alternative since coronavirus (COVID-19) caused golf courses throughout the state to open late this season. Weibring Golf Club opened on May 1, with a number of restrictions.
First, there were no golf carts allowed. It was walkers only. No foursomes were allowed, only twosomes. Intervals between groups were spaced out to 15 minutes, which is about double the normal. And, players paid for their rounds remotely.
“We offered a contactless payment option and kept the clubhouse closed until May 29,” Szymoniak said.
In addition, foam was installed in the cups to keep the golf ball from going all the way to the bottom of the hole. That way a player could retrieve their ball easily without having to reach all the way down or remove the flagstick, which Szymoniak said are recommended to remain in the cup.
“There’s no common touch points,” he said. “We still have don’t have bunker rakes, coolers, and ball washers out on the course.”
From the end of May to the end of June, once the state had entered Phase 3, Szymoniak could open the shop back up to the public. The seating area in the snack bar, however, remained closed for May and much of June. Eventually golfers could start taking carts out again, but they couldn’t share unless it was with someone from the same household. That changed on June 26 when the state entered Phase 4, and golfers were allowed to ride two to a cart. At that time, Szymoniak was also able to reopen the seating area in the snack bar.
“We are still asking that customers use face coverings when inside as is university policy, and we are wearing them as a staff,” Szymoniak said. “And you still have the option to ride alone if you wish, and you can still pay online for the many folks who want to take some extra precautions.”
Szymoniak said a Plexiglas protective barrier was installed at the pro shop counter where players check in for their rounds.
“We are essentially operating the golf course within the guidelines of the University,” he said. “It is starting to get a little bit closer to normal operations around here.”