Golf courses open with restrictions, and minus the 19th hole

By Will Springstead, The Post Star

06 April 2020

The coronavirus pandemic could not find a more adaptable bunch than golfers and golf course operators.

From the moment New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo said on March 26 that golf courses could open so long as they followed certain rules, both operators and players have had a collective “tell me what I should do” attitude.

Courses must implement all CDC- and state-mandated guidelines and promote safe social distancing. There is no access to pro shops, locker rooms, indoor facilities and restaurants/bars (except takeout).

Other guidelines include staying at least 6 feet away from others, leaving the flagstick in the hole, not using rakes, ball washers and coolers on the course (most operators have removed them), only riding one person per cart, not sharing clubs or equipment and not shaking hands.

“It’s been very difficult, but we’re happy to do it,” said Joan Heber, the co-owner of Airway Meadows Golf Club in Gansevoort. “The people, they’re so happy and so helpful.”

Dal Daily, a veteran golf professional in his first year as pro of Battenkill Country Club in Greenwich, said he has had no pushback from anyone about the new rules.

“Everyone is just excited to be out,” Daily said.

Course operators are encouraging such things as becoming a member or paying by phone from the parking lot so there is less interaction outside the buildings. But if it must be done, via cash or charge card, they have set up tables and trays and will make the transactions themselves.

The inability to go inside has made it hard for golfers to buy balls, tees and such, but operators will tell golfers what they have and get them. And clothing sales are non-existent.

Once on the course, operators have either bought other cups to put on top of the existing cups or filled them with shortened pool noodles so that golf balls don’t drop into the cups.

“I play with a couple of other guys, and our mindset has been anything that gets you out of the house is good,” said Justin Nassivera, who has golfed at Hiland Park Country Club and Kingsbury National Golf Club. “And especially when you’re walking, you’re always going to be 6 to 7 feet away from your partners, that’s not hard.”

“Social distancing was no problem,” Gordon Woodworth said of his Wednesday round at Hiland. “But it felt so good being out there — a needed slice of normal in an abnormal world.”

Kevin Milza said that he has golfed several times at Hiland and been to the Glens Falls Country Club driving range. He said since the United States Golf Association changed the rule about leaving the flagstick in on putts last year, he and his usual partner don’t touch flagsticks much anymore, so that wasn’t hard. Not having rakes for the sand traps, though, was different.

“You would notice in certain bunkers that are used a lot the sand was messed up by the end of the day,” Milza said.

Once the motorized and pull carts are brought back, they get an extensive cleaning and disinfecting from top to bottom.

“Anything they possibly touched,” Heber said. “You have to wash them twice, essentially.”

The courses likely will take the biggest financial hit from the loss of indoor food and beverage sales. For now, operators will sell cans and plastic bottles of non-alcoholic drinks and, in some cases, beer. But the 19th hole is no more for the time being.

Ron Walker, the owner of Green Mansions Golf Club in Chestertown, had his club’s second-earliest opening ever on Friday, so he’ll get greens fees he doesn’t normally gets, but they can’t make up for what was sold inside.

“It’s pretty easy for me; I’m a one-man show, at least for the month of April,” Walker said. “I don’t do a ton of food early on, so I’m not going to do any food. I’m going to lose a lot of business on beverage sales inside because people liked to hang out with their friends for a bit. I’ll lose several thousand on that just in April.”

The next thing owners and operators have to worry about are leagues and tournaments, the latter of which would be very hard to run while maintaining social distancing. In the Capital District, some early season tournaments have already been postponed in the hopes that they might be rescheduled.

“I’m 60 years old and I’ve been working since I was 23. I’ve learned over the years that it is what it is,” Walker said.

For now, however, golfers are taking what they can get. Daily said that Battenkill, a private club that also allows public play, has had some busy days. Heber said Airway Meadows had 136 starts on March 28 and over 100 on Wednesday.

And, as Nassivera pointed out, Vermont Gov. Phil Scott closed his state’s golf courses until at least April 15.

“I give the courses here credit for doing what they can,” Nassivera said.

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