Firsthand reports: Superintendents adjust operations for coronavirus


19 March 2020

Golf course superintendents share steps they’re taking to manage both their teams and their to-do lists in the wake of COVID-19.

Editor’s note: While there is no lack of general information about the coronavirus available, GCSAA has compiled resources specific to golf and golf course management. Find customizable business and communications templates, relevant OSHA and CDC information, and more on GCSAA’s coronavirus resources page.

The GCM team will continue to add to this collection of anecdotes frequently throughout the coming weeks. Comments are from social media and have been lightly edited for clarity. To tell us how you are coping with coronavirus at your golf facility, and to share any strategies/workarounds you are implementing in your management of people or your course, email editor Megan Hirt.

Feedback from Sunday, March 22, 2020

Brandon Phillips
Twin Bridges Golf Club, Gadsden, Ala.

Twin Bridges is a city-owned course. The course has been closed since Wednesday, March 18.

Initially, we had to tell our six part-timers to stay at home, and just our four full-timers could work. But that just lasted a day or two because we had to aerify our greens, so the city approved us to let part-timers come back to work until further notice.

We had to take precautions, like everyone had to take their own cart so no one was riding with each other; try to keep a little distance from each other; sanitize everything we had contact with, like the cart steering wheels, gear shifters, doorknobs. We made sure we brought our own drinks, because we couldn’t take a cooler for everyone to share, and our clubhouse was closed, so we couldn’t get anything from there.

As of now, we are going about our daily work, just doing the basic needs of the course, waiting to see when we will get to open. Just hoping it is soon.

We still have some dormant fairways and rough, so we haven’t started to cut grass fully yet. It’s starting to green up, and we’re just going day to day to see if they will send us all home. We have a big greens renovation coming up in May/June, going from bentgrass to TifEagle bermudagrass.

Feedback from Saturday, March 21, 2020

Chris Bruner
The Champions Course at Weeks Park, Wichita Falls, Texas

Golf course superintendent in Canada

We’ve created a “doomsday” crew scenario in case we lose our crew. I have joined with three other local golf courses in agreement to support each other if need be. I have also contacted three recent retirees from my crew, and they are on board to help out. One of them is my former assistant, so there’s a vast knowledge of our course. We have also implemented disinfecting the cockpit of all machines each day. Better to have a plan than to get caught without one.

Foam noodle golf hole

Kelley Storch
Emporia (Kan.) Golf Course

To prevent golfers from having to touch flagsticks or cups, we cut 2-inch PVC pipe to 3 inches long and put a pool noodle inside. This compresses the foam slightly and doesn’t allow the foam to be blown or torn off. It slides over the flagstick down to the ferrule. Construction-wise, use a miter saw to cut the PVC pipe. The foam can be cut using the saw too. The reaction of our golfers has been positive.

Feedback from Friday, March 20, 2020

Golf course superintendent in Texas

We currently have 26 full-time staff members. We are splitting the crew into two shifts. The red team works Sunday through Wednesday morning. We are disinfecting everything with a common chemical we use on the course, as supplies are low for conventional products. Then the blue team works from Wednesday afternoon — starting one hour after the red team leaves — through Saturday. It’s not ideal, but it’s the only way we can ensure a social distance of 6 feet in our compound and still get all of our staff full-time hours.

This was preemptive. This was our own department’s internal decision, eventually approved by the GM and ownership, as the golf course maintenance team is the single largest daily full-time group on the property. This will hopefully be only for two weeks, but who knows. We’ve tried to stem our own possible transmission potential, and this will also hopefully ensure that in the event that someone or even a few people become sick, operations can continue with at least half the staff.

Feedback from Tuesday, March 17, 2020

Rafael Barajas, CGCS, GCSAA 2019 president
Boca Grove Golf and Tennis Club, Boca Raton, Fla.

Food services are closed for dine-in but available for takeout and delivery. Golf course is still open to members only. No guests for golf, tennis or pickleball. It is a members-only facility until further notice. Members are riding one player per cart. There is no service for scorecards (get your own supplies) or club cleaning.

For the golf course maintenance staff, if they feel somewhat sick, they are to stay home or they will be sent home, no exceptions. Mandatory sanitizing of the equipment before use and after use. Club provides lunch to staff, so they have to line up 6 feet apart and get their lunchbox set up by one of our employees. No vendors allowed on the property unless they are making a delivery. All vendors were removed from the security list, so business will be done virtually, via phone, text or email.

Chris Thuer, CGCS
Bear Slide Golf Club, Cicero, Ind.

Right now everyone keeps their distance when in the shop. We only have six right now, as we are not into the season and mowing every day yet. If it rains all day the next few days, only the equipment tech and myself will be in.

Doorknobs, vending machine, faucets, light switches, etc., get sprayed with disinfectant daily. There are 5-gallon buckets of bleach water for the crew to wipe down steering wheels, control levers, etc., on machines, and wipe down rakes, shovels and other tools before putting them away.

On the course, no one rides in the same utility vehicle together, and everyone stays away from each other. If it gets worse and we need to be mowing every day, we will stagger start times and/or stay in vehicles in the parking lot. One person at a time will enter the shop, clock in, get on their machine and head out. Then the next will do the same. Reverse at the end of the day. Only one person in the shop at a time. On the course, it is easy to isolate from others. Everyone is instructed to stay away if they are sick or if anyone they have been in contact with is sick.

Robert Scott Blake
Public golf course, southwest Pennsylvania

We are complying with the governor’s call for nonessential businesses to close for two weeks. Most of our employees and customers are seniors.

Darcy Otto

Just getting ready to open in north Idaho. Small staff currently. No course accessories will be put out, pins will be disinfected and remain in the cup, limited access to the pro shop, to-go food from the restaurant, thoroughly cleaning of carts after rounds. Take it day to day, as recommendations will continue to change.

Brian Wilcomb
Central Ohio

So far, we are operational as normal on the maintenance side, other than only one staff member per cart when possible. All staff may use the same tools throughout the day, and we spend 30 minutes at the end of each day wiping down all touchable surfaces with bleach, making sure the surfaces stay wet for five minutes.

It looks like we will be trending to a mow-only maintenance program in which greens may get mowed two to three times per week and tees/fairways one to two times per week. As far as spraying goes, we will do the bare minimum and try to keep the diseases knocked back, but will loosen our threshold as to what is acceptable.

Andrew James
Dun Laoghaire Golf Club, Dublin, Ireland

We are not on full lockdown yet, so the club is very busy, as most offices have been told to work from home. This could change by next week if the government closes all nonessential jobs. However, we can’t just leave the course to go wild for a month. We will have to still have a few guys in every couple of days to check greens for disease and cut, etc., but we will cross that bridge when we come to it.

We have taken in all flags and are updating members via the website on pin positions (i.e., all pins are front and center today). We were going to use pin sheets, but then arose the problem of everyone touching them also. All rakes have been taken out of bunkers, and golfers have been advised to repair damage as best as possible with their feet or club. All carts, buggies and trolleys for hire are banned. Clubhouse closed. Pro shop open at certain hours, but only one member in at a time.

We have staggered start times and breaks, and we are assigning jobs via our group WhatsApp. We are trying our best to give everyone jobs that have them apart from other workers, and are also assigning crew carts to individuals so that they make sure to wipe them down after use. We’re not using our hand scanner clock-in system. We have rubber gloves that each crew member has to put on when entering our admin and canteen building, and they must wipe down everything after their lunch.

Eugene Weiser
Nine-hole semiprivate golf course, Iowa

Our clubhouse is closed, but the course is open. We keep our distance and start early at 5:30 a.m. All carts are wiped after each use, and groups must be of four or less. No water coolers, and everything is cleaned two to three times per day. I send my crew home after morning chores. I held a safety meeting and give reminders daily to use social distance.

Luke Partridge
Sydney, Australia

Maintenance team split in half, working alternate days. Disinfecting of all common areas and machinery at the end of each day. Staggered break times.

Josh Earnest
Par-3 municipal golf course, Kentucky

We just shut down the golf course, but I’m still able to work … for now.

I’m the only full-time employee on the course, and part-time workers haven’t come back yet. My priorities haven’t changed: greens, tees, fairways and rough, in that order. Mowing greens twice a week and rolling once to twice per week. Tees are bermuda and haven’t started growing yet, though I am in the process of overseeding with bluegrass. Seed went down 10 days ago, starter fertilizer today. Fairways and rough aren’t growing much yet, but it’s just a matter of time before I’m pulling 10- to 12-hour days, if I’m allowed. With no golfers, I assume I’ll have plenty of time to keep the course manageable until help arrives.

Howie Zhao
Shenzhen, China

Once the local infections started to increase at the end of January, the club started to implement a series of info-checks for all members and guests who came in. Staff were urged to stay in the club (the staff dormitory is inside the club) unless movement out of the community was necessary.

The club closed from Feb. 1 to 28 according to the government policy of virus control. Staff members who stay in the club were not allowed to go out unless there was an emergency. Those who had been on vacation outside the club (many staff members went back to their hometowns for the Chinese New Year holiday, and the virus outbreak happened at same time) were also strictly controlled by their local governments. Before the end of club closure, no one was allowed to go into or outside the club. Only the golf course maintenance, security, canteen, housekeeping and management teams were operational.

Once the club reopened, staff members who came back from any other provinces were required to take 14 days to quarantine in the dorm. Members and guests were asked to check their tracks in the past 14 days. Whoever had visited other cities in the past 14 days was not allowed to come in.

The restaurant is reopened, but it offers take-away food only. Now we are almost 80% back to normal operation. Most staff members have finished quarantine. It took quite a while and was not easy for everyone. Masks and self-hygiene as well as constantly sanitizing are critical.

Tami Jones

Course is open for membership-play only. All ball washers have been pulled. Flagsticks are disinfected during setup, and golfers are encouraged to leave them in, and if they have to pull, to use a glove. Restrooms are on a two-hour disinfecting schedule. Players are allowed single carts. The restaurant is open, with distant-strategy seating and drive-up service. To-go service is encouraged. Crew is managed to individual tasks. No orders unless they’re for cleaning supplies or needed maintenance to operate.

Tim Johnston
Wedgewood Pines Country Club, Stow, Mass.

Only three salaried staff working in the maintenance department. The course will be opening to play in three days. Priority was cleanup of short-grass playable areas, then all cuts. No course accessories (divot boxes, coolers, ball washers) are being placed on the course for opening. Flagsticks will stay in, but an email was sent indicating the preference to avoid touching if possible. Taking it day by day, task by task! Who knows what tomorrow will bring.

Please share these tips, articles and insights, so that as many people as possible can benefit from #SafeGolf.

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