Rice Lake Golf Course opens with COVID-19 precautions in place

By Chris Zoeller, Globe Gazette 

29 March 2020

With an abundance of caution, the Rice Lake Golf and Country Club opened its gates for the season on Friday in Lake Mills.

Amid the outbreak of the COVID-19 in Iowa and across the globe, citizens and businesses are adapting to the restrictions put in place by local and federal agencies to help slow the spread of the contagious coronavirus. 

Under the guidance from the governor’s office and the Iowa Golf Association, Rice Lake manager Travis Laudner said he has kept an open dialogue with those agencies and other golf courses to adopt safety procedures that would allow them to open and keep patrons safe.

“We’re treating this as a fluid situation, taking it one day at a time,” Laudner said. “We’re going to do what the appropriate agencies feel is necessary so we’ll fall in line with that, and when they give us the green light to pull some of these procedures back, we’ll go ahead and do that.”

While most non-essential businesses have been ordered closed by Gov. Kim Reynolds’ State Public Health Emergency Declaration, outdoor recreation is still allowed as long as gatherings are limited to less than 10 people at a time.

With that restriction in mind, Rice Lake released its COVID-19 policy that helps limit golfers interaction with golf course staff and other golfers.

In its policy, Rice Lake states that its clubhouse and restaurant are closed until further notice. Golfers are told to book tee times online in advance and, upon arrival, proceed to the first tee at their designated time, eliminating the need to check-in in person.

To further prevent exposure, certain club-provided amenities, such as range balls, flag sticks, bunker rakes, etc., will not be available until it is deemed appropriate.

Laudner said he was excited to have the season open, especially so that weary Iowans can enjoy their favorite pastime, but in a safe way.
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Golfers walk between holes at the Rice Lake Golf and Country Club on Friday in Lake Mills.

“Being outside and social distancing is on the forefront of everybody’s mind right now, but we feel like being outside in nature is a great way to get rid of that cabin fever, but also be safe,” he said.

With Minnesota golf courses being closed under Gov. Tim Walz’s current stay-at-home order, Laudner said he has received many calls from Minnesotans looking to tee off.

One such person was Rick Mattson, of St. Paul, who traveled two hours to golf at Rice Lake on Friday.

“Iowa is not that far away from me and I was looking at some courses in northern Iowa and a lot of them weren’t open,” Mattson said. “They answered the phone here, so I said ‘I’ll be right down tomorrow.'”

Many golfers could be seen walking the greens on Friday, including Lake Mills golf coach Lyle Thomson. As he and Louie Toulouse, of Emmons, Minnesota, were finishing their round, members of the Lake Mills golf team arrived to practice on their own.

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Lake Mills golf team members Jimmy Gallardo, right, and Bennett Berger arrive at Rice Lake Golf and Country Club to practice on Friday in Lake Mills.

Under Iowa High School Athletic Association policy, high school athletes and coaches are prohibited from practicing or having in-person contact for the duration of Gov. Reynolds emergency declaration.

With Iowans all feeling the effects of the global COVID-19 pandemic in their own way, Laudner said he hoped opening the golf course would bring back some sense of normalcy.

“We get to this point every year and everybody’s kind of like a kid in a candy store, we’re anxious to get going,” he said. “This is obviously a totally different animal than last year, so we’re trying to be smart and doing what is recommended of us, but still providing folks some entertainment.”

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