Updated: Sep 14, 2020
It’s Spring-- the season of 50 to 60 hour work weeks for the golf professional (or sometimes 70+ during tournament weeks), and many golf professionals around the world are at home this Sunday afternoon. What a weird time for everyone!
I was supposed to write an article on why every serious golfer should be hitting blades, however I decided to publish something about the elephant in the room-- Covid-19.
Over 300,000 cases are now reported in the U.S. according to this article from NBC. How is this affecting recreational golf? Well it might surprise you, actually.
But before starting, I want to mention a way to help golf professionals that are currently on furlough (luckily I am not currently): My friend Brad Lardon has implemented a PGA Pros for PGA Pros program in which he donates 100% of his online lessons to PGA pros in need. To learn more about this program, click here.
So what's the status of golf in Houston, TX?
I'm glad you asked. While some states have ordered its golf courses to shut down, others haven't. Honestly, I’m very interested in hearing all of your own experiences in the comment section below, especially if you're also a golf professional.
But here is the update for Houston, TX:
Some golf courses are open, like Gus Wortham and Golf Club of Houston (technically Humble), and others are closed, like some of Houston's municipal golf courses and driving ranges.
And my club? Well, kind of in the middle. We have recently opened nine holes and walking is mandatory. Pull carts, golf carts, flagsticks, rakes, the driving range, the halfway house, the clubhouse and the pro shop are all unavailable.
If it means anything, I recommend staying home. From what I've seen there is too much temptation in golf to break social distancing protocol, even if you have the best of intentions when beginning your round. Read this article where a recently re-opened course in Connecticut is now closed again after difficulty enforcing social distancing.
But what’s an open golf course like right now?
For my course, it’s quiet. Yes-- people are playing. But there are no reverse signals from the golf carts ringing in your ear. No constant ping-ing of drivers from the driving range. Everyone is just walking up to the first tee, pegging it up and letting it fly.
Pretty cool, actually, and very similar to the golf I played when living in England.
But not every open course is operating without ranges, carts, and pro shops. Some places rely more heavily on green fees, cart fees and halfway house orders than country clubs. For this reason, I'm guessing many managers feel pressure to maintain cash flow and are leaving the range open and allowing golf carts to be rented, promising to sanitize the carts. But should you trust that your cart is sanitized?
I wouldn't. At least not entirely. That is not a discredit to anyone's claim, but rather in reference to the fact that truly sanitizing things takes time. Read this article from the CDC discussing disinfecting your facility.
Here are some of the steps I imagine are necessary for "disinfecting" a golf cart.
a. Having a pair of new disposable gloves
b. De-trashing it
c. Properly disinfecting inside the cubbies and drink holders (by CDC guidelines)
d. Properly disinfecting or removing the sand bottles (by CDC guidelines)
e. Properly disinfecting the steering wheel (by CDC guidelines)
f. Properly disinfecting the seat and its plastic side handles (by CDC guidelines)
g. Not providing any pencils, scorecards or golf tees.
That's a lot of responsibility for those 17 year old kids working in the cart barn to be given, don't you think? And imagine, some cart fleets are over 100 carts in size! Do you think they are all really being completely sanitized at the end of the night? I could be wrong. But to put blind faith that your golf cart is sanitized just seems unwise to me.
Why not just get some exercise if you're able to walk?
Cash flow alternatives for public courses:
If your facility is completely set on remaining open -- so long as it is legally allowed to be open in your area-- why not charge a temporary Covid-19 fee of $20 or $25 and then require walking? Sure, your rounds might go down, but it would help ease the cash flow issues. Most of your golfers will understand.
Also, if your shop is open to receive greens fee payments, please require all employees in the golf shop to wear gloves and a mask. And please keep your driving range shut down. It reduces the amount of employees needed and keeps people more separated.
Even if you disagree with my thoughts, surely we can agree it is better to overreact than under-react in this situation, especially when all that's at stake are just some range and cart fees. Plus, some good news! As of two days ago, the Paycheck Protection Program can help keep your business (even nonprofits) afloat during this difficult time. To read more about this program, click here.
So what do you guys think?
Should courses be shut down completely or should they implement strategies like my course in an attempt to reduce risk and allow people to get some exercise and fresh air? Or does it depend on the area?
I just know that if you're going to be open, your operation must look vastly different than before the pandemic. If it doesn't, you might be implementing risky, unsustainable business behavior.
Whatever your thoughts, please consider these four points if you're in an area where golf is allowed:
1. Golf is only social distancing IF you social distance.
This is the main issue. Just as a bottle of rum in the cabinet is temptation for a recovering alcoholic, playing with your friends can be temptation to break the six foot rule. Tossing your buddy his ball, slapping him on the back or trying out his golf clubs are all commonplace at the golf course. But they should not be anymore. So if you play, consider playing with just your family members with whom you already live. But if you play with friends, keep six feet or more away. We have seen this is not a joke by how fast this thing has spread in just a month.
And don't relax with this matter once the round gets going. It's easy to forget and go back to our old habits, so please respect your playing partners and the employees by keeping your six feet the entire time you're at the course if you go. Otherwise, you're not social distancing-- you're just golfing like normal and possibly playing part in spreading this disease.
2. Don't take a cart, even if you're allowed one!
Already talked about this point. Get some exercise and play golf how it was meant to be played-- walking through such a beautiful park is part of the fun of the game.
3. Before playing, read this.
4. Consider wearing a face mask or a cloth mask during your round-- It's in fashion.
This is now a recommendation from the CDC for when you're in a situation where it is possibly difficult to maintain your 6 feet. Golf might be one of those scenarios-- you can control yourself, but not your playing partners. A face mask or cloth wouldn't hurt (at least as far as I know, but I'm no doctor).
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Tired of not progressing in your golf game? Try online lessons from me (we have a $50 Covid-19 special currently available). As always, if you have any questions or an article request, please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org . I’ll try my best to get back to you as soon as I am able.
Connor from Serious Golf Talk