Golf in these times: Florida
Last in a series of reports from across the country by PGATOUR.COM writers
March 27, 2020
By Mike McAllister, PGATOUR.COM
- Golfers during their round at Marsh Creek Country Club. (Mike McAllister/PGA TOUR)
ST. AUGUSTINE, Fla. – It’s 2 p.m. on Monday. That means the Mark McCumber-designed course at Marsh Creek Country Club is open for play. No tee times. No greens fees. No carts. Just walk up and pick out one of the six set of tees that awaits on every hole.
Our foursome includes trivia night buddies Dillon, Kevin and Burt, the latter having recently performed in a production of Horton Foote’s “The Young Man from Atlanta” at the Limelight, a community theatre just north of the Historic District. Yes, he’s the entertainer of the group. They each have push carts. I’m carrying. I make a mental note to search Amazon that night in hopes of rectifying my mistake.
GOLF IN THESE TIMES
• California: Ben Everill plays historic Rancho Park just before city courses in Los Angeles are shut down
• Massachusetts: Jim McCabe sees the start of golf season delayed at Presidents Golf Course
• Arizona: Rob Bolton sets the scene from an Outlaw Tour event at Western Skies Golf Club
• North Carolina: Helen Ross reflects on memories of golf in her home state
It’s the first time I’ve seen the guys since everything changed. I had set up Burt with two tickets for THE PLAYERS Championship. Luckily for him, he wanted to attend the first round. “Had a blast,” he said. A few hours later, there was no live golf to watch -- for the rest of that week, then for the next month, then the month after that, and now who knows how long.
But there is still golf to play, at least for those fortunate to have open courses and the ability to visit them. Florida fits the description … for now. Given how packed Marsh Creek’s parking lot was the few times I had driven by, it was obvious that others also are eager to get out, all of them of course employing social distancing and the other necessary safety precautions.
Even the time I saw eight people on the smallish range, they were evenly spread out, the new rule of thumb we currently live by. Six feet now means something more than just another putt I’m doomed to miss.
“Heard they were booked up on Saturday,” Dillon says. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard that happening before.”
“This is the height of our season, so regardless of the situation, we’re usually packed this time of year,” Marsh Creek director of golf Cary Splane tells me later. “But we definitely haven’t lost many rounds.”
It certainly was starting to get crowded on Monday. Burt’s friend Frank from Michigan’s Upper Peninsula joined us right before we teed off, and our fivesome gets going. We chat a little bit about the coronavirus pandemic, but it’s not the major topic of discussion.
Even so, when we reach the green at the par-4 opening hole, someone from the previous day had left a stray ball about 10 feet from the pin. Admittedly, an odd place to leave a ball, but still … a freebie. “Any other day, I’d pick it up and put it in my bag,” Kevin says.
We’re now standing on the second tee. It’s not a shot I look forward to hitting – a forced carry over marshland front and right. I’m usually good for at least one lost ball. But just as we’re about to hit, Bob – my neighbor from across the street, the one with the stylish new makeover to the front of his house -- is finishing up on the first green. We invite him to join, giving us the potentially ponderous sixsome.
I then pump two into the marsh. No worries – I carry plenty of spares.
The sixsome is fun, but there are others behind us catching up fast. So one hole later, we split into threesomes. I’m in the first group with Bob and Kevin. Energy-wise, they’re each dragging a bit, with good reason. Earlier in the day, Kevin had played tennis at the club’s nearby courts for two hours. Meanwhile, Bob had participated in a 45-minute softball workout, plus he went fishing over the weekend, traveling 75 miles out to sea to catch dolphin and skipjack tuna.
I’m guessing each is in training for the next season of American Ninja Warrior.
I ask Bob about playing golf during this pandemic. Did it give him any pause for concern? “Not at all,” he said. “It’s nice to walk and get some exercise. And it’s a good way to socialize without getting too close to anybody.”
Certainly, I’m not getting close to Bob or Kevin. I’ve yet to find the fairway with any of my tee shots.
Even so, these two hours on the course have been terrific, a chance to escape from my CNN binge-watching, to feel normal again during a time in which nothing seems normal. Or as Cary describes it: “It’s one of the last bastions of normality we have, playing golf instead of losing our minds at home.
We call it a day after nine holes, and then I wait in the parking lot for the other threesome to arrive.A scenic view of Marsh Creek Country Club. (Mike McAllister/PGA TOUR)
In addition to his acting skills, Burt is also a musician. He tells me he’s writing a song about the current state of the world – and more to the point, the current state of his mind.
“I’ve been thinking about these lyrics,” he says.
I just lost my longitude
I don’t know where I’m going to
Like a pirate learning how to pray
“Everybody’s kind of lost their bearings,” he explains.
And yet on this Monday, he found his way to the golf course. It’s a safe harbor.
“Golf is a great microcosm for life,” Burt says. “You experience ups and downs. You can’t get too excited and you can’t get too depressed. When you make a birdie, you better not chortle because you know you’ll make a bogey at some point. It’s really great therapy for dealing with times like these.”
Adds Dillon, who often plays golf alone: “It provides me quiet time and reflection.”
I look over to see Bob reading the instructions on how to fold up his new push cart. It’s a six-step process and evidently requires an engineering degree. And then a clatter of balls – Frank from Michigan accidently left open the large pocket of his golf bag, and a dozen or so spilled out onto the asphalt. So much for quiet reflection.Bob reads the instruction manual on folding his new push cart after a round of golf. (Mike McAllister/PGA TOUR)
And now a guy driving a white sedan pulls into the parking lot and rolls down his window. “I think I left my wedge somewhere on the ninth hole,” he said. “You guys didn’t happen to pick it up?”
Alas, we didn’t. But the question is oddly comforting. So much uncertainty right now. So much fear. Things have changed. In golf, we no longer shake hands or touch flagsticks or drive two to a cart.
But at least we can still count on someone leaving behind a wedge.