Golf courses adjust to COVID-19 concerns

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Golf has been in an interesting spot during the COVID-19 pandemic. Both private and public courses were declared non-essential on April 9 and were barred from the public for 20 days. Courses have begun to reopen under strict guidelines to maintain proper social distance.

Golf carts are beginning to be re-introduced but are restricted to one person at a time and are thoroughly sanitized after each use. Tee times are also being staggered to ensure that not too many people are playing at the same hole simultaneously. Adjustments to holes have been made using pool noodles to ensure that touching the flags is unnecessary.

Both Newman Golf Course in Ithaca and Robert Trent Jones Golf Course at Cornell University are still closed for the time being. However, Stonehedges Golf Course in Groton and Trumansburg Golf Course are both open.
Terry Walpole, a member of the board of directors for Stonehedges Golf Course, discussed the financial impact of being closed down for the majority of April.

“We were from the beginning extremely concerned about the finances of our club,” Walpole said. “We’re a member-owned-and-operated club and we have a pretty tight budget year to year. The bulk of our income is between memberships and the greens fees and cart rentals during league play. A substantial part of our income is from the league play, and we were looking at that being cut off.”

Currently, league play at Stonehedges is delayed until May 15 at the earliest, but the course has been receiving a steady influx of customers since reopening.

“We did have a lot of people want to get out there, just crying to get out, so we had a substantial number of people show up to walk and play,” Walpole said. “It’s been less than it would normally be. During seasonal weather in the last [weekend], of course, it was phenomenal. We’re thankful for that. It was just constant flow play, which has been good for us to recuperate some income.”

For Trumansburg Golf Course, General Manager Kevin Manheim said the biggest challenge for him has been the enforcement of the cart restrictions.

“You get a lot of people that want to ride carts. That’s been our biggest hurdle,” Manheim said. “We tried to put it out there as a way to get your exercise and this and that, but the reality of it is a lot of people really enjoy using the carts. So, the biggest thing we’ve been focusing on is ensuring the safety of anybody that comes to the course.”

On the bright side, the downtime and lack of players gave the course time to finish up necessary improvements, leading to the best conditions the course has had in a long time. That is made especially clear with the lack of cart marks on the grass.

“The course is actually in great shape,” Manheim said. “Our greenskeeper Damon Reed, him and his crew are on. We just got hole number three open, which is the first time we’ve had our full potential in probably two and a half, three years. We’ve been undertaking a couple projects out there to try to alleviate some of the water buildup that we had on the course with drainage and such.”

Walpole and Stonehedges have had an easier time dealing with carts, being that they allow for privately owned carts.

“According to the guidelines, any cart that employees don’t have to touch we were allowed to use,” Walpole said. “Very recently, we were allowed to use them first and then as of yesterday, we were allowed the other carts, but we have to sanitize and we have to follow the guidelines of one rider per cart, unless they are family who live together.”

Sports have struggled greatly during the COVID-19 pandemic with the three major sports leagues that are active this time of year suspended indefinitely. However, golf is a sport where social distance guidelines are fairly easy to adhere to.

“Golf is conducive to social distancing,” Walpole said. “Naturally, the most you’re going to have on any hole is, let’s say on a par four, even a short par four, over a 300-yard stretch the most, you’re going to have on that hole is eight people. Just naturally, with normal golf etiquette, people who are even on the green, they’re not standing next to each other. People are always spread out.”

Those factors allow for golf to snap back quicker than most sports. Manheim added his thoughts on the safeness of golf.

“The argument can be made that it’s one of the safest activities that you can play,” Manheim said. “Outside of the celebratory handshake at the end of the round, you’re playing with your own ball, you’re touching your own clubs, you’re carrying your own bag. You’re really not coming into contact with anybody, especially if it’s one person per cart. You’re really not going to be in a position to transfer anything.”

While the courses are open for play, the social distance guidelines have caused a snag in tournament play. The biggest golf event in central New York, the Dick’s Sporting Goods Open in Endicott, was canceled three months ahead of the start date.

Walpole believes three months ahead of time is a bit too soon to be making decisions at this time, while Manheim sees the cancellation of the open as a bad sign but remains optimistic.

“We don’t know how many people are going to be able to congregate in the area,” Manheim said. “We’re not sure if any of it is going to be able to take place. Some tournaments are already canceled for early in the season. We’re going to see a hit with that for sure. We’re going to lose the tournaments, but our course is in great shape, and we’re never at a loss for people wanting to play.”

If you are itching to get out and have some fun during this time, golf is fortunately an option. Both the Trumansburg and Stonehedges golf courses are making their proper adjustments to ensure that it is as safe as possible.

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