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Back2Golf initiative focuses on safety measures

5 Min Read


Back2Golf initiative focuses on safety measures

    The scene in the pro shop was described as hectic but brimming with excitement over the weekend at Granite Links Golf Club in coastal Quincy, Massachusetts, where the public was allowed to return to play with social-distancing restrictions starting last Thursday.

    An hour west, at Cyprian Keyes Golf Club in Boylston, Director of Sales Deborah Murphy says the phone has been ringing off the hook, such was the pent-up demand in the Bay State.

    “I swear, people must have had radar that beeped when that announcement was made,” said Murphy, whose course is public but maintains a membership. “For the members, some of whom had played in other states, everybody was happy to be home. Plus, just being able to get some fresh air was nice after being cooped up for a month, a month and a half.”

    As per the directive of Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker, courses opened with precautionary measures like face coverings for staff; closed locker rooms, pro shops, bag rooms and restaurants; no carts (walking only); and closed practice greens/driving ranges. Also, players were barred from arriving more than 15 minutes ahead of their tee times.

    Still, jubilation reigned.

    “People were just really chomping at the bit to play,” Murphy said.

    Vermont and Maryland reopened the same day as Massachusetts, and New Hampshire opened Monday. New York and New Jersey re-opened at the end of April and first of May. All states have now reopened for play, according to the National Golf Foundation, which projects 95% of courses in the United States will be open by this Sunday.

    But it’s not just about reopening; it’s about reopening safely. That’s where courses can utilize the Back2Golf Initiative, a set of guidelines established – in accordance with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention – by the PGA TOUR, PGA of America, United States Golf Association, National Golf Course Owners Association, Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, and Club Management Association of America.

    PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh calls it a “living document” that provides a framework but is not rigidly prescriptive. In Massachusetts, for example, the return to golf has meant walking only, but in Florida and elsewhere, players can ride one to a cart. Everywhere, the name of the game is social distancing, limiting touch points, and staying safe.

    Back2Golf outlines operational guidelines in three phases for golf’s 16,000-plus facilities.

    Phase 1 is Individual Golf, which advises to avoid gatherings of 10 or more, maintain at least 6 feet distancing from others, either walk or take one to a cart, and avoid physical contact.

    Phase 2 is Restricted Programming, which advises to avoid gatherings of 50 or more, maintain social distancing, and limit clubhouse operations and hold events only with restrictions.

    Phase 3 is the New Normal, which will kick in at some future date with sanitation procedures but unrestricted gatherings and events, and normal golf operations.

    Using measures set by the CDC and The White House “Guidelines for Opening Up America Again,” the recommendations will respect circumstances on the ground, depending on location.

    Dr. Bradley Connor, clinical professor of medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College and an attending physician at the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell campus, praised the golf industry and Back2Golf as “comprehensive” and “responsible” amid the COVID-19 crisis.

    “Golf is a terrific recreational outlet that offers a number of physical and mental health benefits,” Connor said. “While we all must remain vigilant and continue to take precautions, this plan allows golf to be played in keeping with social distancing best practices.”

    Courses in Ventura County, northwest of Los Angeles, have been reopened for over a week with social-distancing measures like foam inserts in cups; masks required around the starter and practice areas; and strict crowd limits on practice areas.

    At the Gil Hanse-designed Rustic Canyon in Moorpark, the new walking-only rule has arguably improved the experience. The course was designed as a tribute to the beginnings of golf, carved from the existing land in the canyon, and that old-school look and feel has returned thanks to the sudden absence of golf carts zooming around the property.

    Rustic has ordered new push carts for golfers (sanitized between rentals) and some are hoping the return-to-walking trendcontinues even as motorized carts become available again.

    Tee times were nearly sold out within hours of the Los Angeles Department of Recreation and Parks announcement that it would reopen city courses on May 9. To play, golfers had to book tee times online, pay with a credit card, and accept a waiver advising of COVID-19 risks. Single-rider golf carts are allowed before 9 a.m. and after midday.

    The motorized carts, of course, are also thoroughly sanitized between users.

    “It was packed on Saturday,” local golfer David Hughes said from Griffith Park, the site of two city courses. “But there was a real effort from everyone to adhere to social distancing, facial coverings and all of the new requirements.

    “Golfers understand the benefits of being able to play in these tough times – both for physical and mental health – and they want to preserve that. If it means adjusting a few ways we interact, then it certainly seems players will do it.”

    How will courses stage tournaments? Murphy, of Cyprian Keyes in Massachusetts, has been wondering about that. Several of the course’s outings have been pushed back to August, but the first one is scheduled for June. Will the food have to be served out on the course if the clubhouse remains closed? Where will the trophy ceremony take place? And what about the absence of rakes as it pertains to a fair and equitable competition?

    Also, courses in the New York, Chicago and Washington, D.C. metropolitan areas remain closed, according to the NGF. When will they reopen?

    Such questions will presumably work themselves out in time. For now, it’s just about playing again.

    “Golf inherently provides many health and fitness benefits, including the opportunity to spend time outdoors with family and friends, which is needed now more than ever,” said Greg McLaughlin, CEO of World Golf Foundation. “It is a sport that naturally lends itself to social distancing and the ‘Back2Golf’ guidelines. We greatly appreciate the collaboration between all the allied golf organizations. It represents another example of our industry coming together for the greater good as our game has done so many times before.”

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