Editor’s note: Interviews for this story were conducted before Tuesday’s Stay Home order by Gov. Phil Scott.
An early spring is generally a welcome sight to golf, an industry thirsty for a break from financial stress. Instead, it’s seeing the red flag of coronavirus in its fairway.
Gov. Phil Scott ordered Vermonters to stay at home on Tuesday, at least through April 15, along with closing nonessential businesses. But golf courses foster hopes of having a season. Golf also has a firm resolve, the potential for safety in wide-open-spaces and a plan.
In the face of the coronavirus pandemic, Vermont clubs are pooling ideas and molding a strategy to keep golfers safe.
“We’ve gotten a few calls and we’re just trying to get the process going” at Proctor-Pittsford Country Club, said general manager John Ojala. “People are anxious to find out what the plan is.”
“We’re very sensitive as to what’s going on,” said Bill Evans, one of three managers at the Country Club of Barre.
“It’s one of those fluid things that once we’re open we’ll listen and adjust to the situation.”
“We want to get ahead of it. We’re trying to do the right thing,” Ojala said.
Some courses (Mount Anthony in Bennington and Neshobe in Brandon among them) opened in March. Before Scott’s announcement on Tuesday, golf course general managers say this is what a visit to your local course might look like:
Observe, observe, observe the 6-foot rule, or better.
There would be a limited access to pro shops, and one player can check in his/her group’s arrival. Clubs are considering credit or debit card payments only, or paying online, as Neshobe hopes to do, which would eliminate the need to go inside at all.
There would be no touching flagsticks or holes. Packing noodles would be placed in cups so the ball rests on top. If clubs opt instead for a raised cup, if your ball hits it, the putt’s considered good.
No ball washers.
No rakes in the bunkers. Smooth out your divots with your feet.
“We’re trying to eliminate all points of contact,” said Rutland Country Club GM Bill Gaiotti. “No flags, no rakes, no ball washers — no ‘touch’ points.”
Do not borrow or touch another player’s equipment, balls or clubs, even the wedge someone left on the apron before putting.
One person to a golf cart. Carts will be disinfected before and after every use.
Keep washing your hands. Some clubs will place disinfectant hand wipes on tees.
No congregating in the clubhouse. Food service will be limited to pick-up or takeout, though clubs could make snacks available. Some clubs would employ outdoor grills. Bars would be closed.
These would be small sacrifices for the benefits of being able to get out in nature for three-plus hours.
Published articles also talk about reducing the number of tee times to further space out players and/or reducing the number of players in a group from the maximum of four.
Even in a best-case scenario, clubs could suffer revenue losses from the precautions’ effect on tournaments. Many are one-day events with dinners — large gatherings which are presently unsafe.
Gaotti said he’d been asked if a tournament could book his course and forego the food, a request he’d be happy to accommodate.
When it comes to such tournaments Neshobe is frequently booked.
“Right now for the month of May we have tournaments scheduled. I have reached out to them and right now everything is up in the air,” GM Matt Wilson said.
Neshobe, Proctor-Pittsford and Rutland are all rotation courses for the May 2-3 Four-Ball, the highest-volume tournament of the year. Six courses in all are used and all are in contact with the sponsoring Vermont Golf Association on proposals for safety precautions.
The Vermont State Women’s Golf Association is monitoring in anticipating of its busy tournament schedule, which includes a wealth of state days. The VSWGA usually schedules three per week at different locations. Those events do not begin until May.
Wilson said Neshobe would make cleaning a perpetual process and in the face of shortages, the club had made its own cleaning solution from alcohol and aloe.
“We can clean every few hours,” he said.
“But food is going to be tough. That’s going to be one of the topics we’re going to have to figure out. Do you go a through a window?”
Condiments would be available in single-serving packets.
“Right now, it’s up in the air,” said Devin Smith, course restaurant owner at the Country Club of Barre. “We’re trying to look at everything the state is saying. We have ideas and thoughts on how to mitigate the risk.
“The main thing we have to worry about is the traffic patterns.”
“We’ve all seen nothing like this,” said Wilson.
“We’re trying to follow suit with other places. You want to provide a place where people can go and get away from everything.”