By, JOHN TORSIELLO
Even though the current COVID-19 virus health crises has curtailed many residents’ enjoyment of sports, one activity some continue to take part in is golf, although the situation remains fluid.
Courses in New York and Connecticut have been allowed to remain open during the crises, albeit under rather strict guidelines issued by the CDC and state officials. Those guidelines are being taken to insure social distancing, even in the open-air setting, while playing.
Undermountain Golf Course in Copake, NY received word recently that New York golf courses are allowed to remain open, but must implement “all CDC and state mandated guidelines, and promote safe, social distancing”. There is to be no access to pro shops, locker rooms, indoor facilities and restaurants/bars, unless for take-out purposes only.
The Undermountain GC staff are asking for social distancing on the golf course that should include: staying at least six feet away from others; not shaking hands before or after a round; leaving the flagstick in the hole; not using rakes, ball washers and coolers from course; not sharing clubs or any other equipment; and, if using a golf cart, limit use to only the driver.
Due to the unique COVID-19 precautions taking place at golf courses, the USGA has provided guidance on how to use the flexibility provided in the Roles of Golf while protecting public health. They also provided temporary guidance on posting scores to GHIN (begins in upstate New York on April 15), specifically when golfers don’t “hole out” for health/safety reasons.
Copake Country Club also in Copake has been open occasionally during recent days as the weather has permitted, an early start to a season that normally begins in early to mid-April for the course.
“Yes, Copake CC is open,” said head professional Austin Urban. “As far as social distancing, we are abiding by the New York State Golf Association and CDC guidelines. Official hours don’t start until April 15 but we are still deciding on a firm date with everything going on, but are operational most days until then.”
Canaan Country Club in Connecticut is also open under strict guidelines for play passed down from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development that Connecticut courses are allowed to stay open subject to the following special rules: Canaan’s clubhouse remains closed and only the course is open; the clubhouse has been and will remain closed except for takeout food orders; only one person per motorized cart at the present time.
Also, the DECD has set out the following as “best practices”: maintain social distance of a least six feet from fellow players as well as course employees; putt with the pin in the hole to avoid hand contact with the flagstick; sanitize golf carts after use; and insure that starting times are at least 10 minutes apart.
“The overall message is to get some fresh air, some exercise, and enjoy playing the game safely in the current circumstances,” said Canaan Country Club owner Richard Shanley. “Be respectful of everyone’s space, health and safety. And if you are feeling ill, please come and play another day. There are no tee times necessary until April 1, and play is on a first come first serve basis.”
Hotchkiss Golf Course, located on the grounds of the Hotchkiss School in Lakeville, CT is planning to open as early as April 15, according to head professional Jim Kennedy. “We will be opening, but I’m not yet sure as to the date. We’ll be following all distancing guidelines that are in place at the date of opening.”
Massachusetts golf courses are presently in a holding pattern. Frank Mazzarelli, owner at Egremont Country Club in Great Barrington, said, ”The golf courses in Massachusetts must remain closed until at least April 7. At that time, the state will determine if the courses can change their status to `essential’ as opposed to `non- essential`. My food and beverage is also on shutdown currently.”
Mazzarelli added, “The good news, however, is that the state is allowing my maintenance staff to go back to work, which originally was also not allowed. We are trying to stay optimistic but it has not been easy. We have issued numerous guidelines suggested by the National Golf Course Owners Association and the Massachusetts Golf Association regarding policies related to COVID-19, and we will be ready to open as soon as the state allows us.”
At least for golfers, there seems to be some rays of sun in the dark skies hovering over the area.