Should one choose to venture outdoors to play a round of golf over the next few months, they might find it a much different experience as area golf courses set forth new guidelines to follow in relation to the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic.
The Toledo District Golf Association recently sent out a list of recommended changes that area courses adhere to, and Ironwood Golf Course in Wauseon and White Pines Golf Course in Swanton were listening.
The top thing on the list for both businesses is to instruct those that are able, to walk the course rather than taking a cart. This for the purpose of social distancing, by helping to maintain the 6-foot distance between players.
However, there are carts available for those that need one.
“We encourage people to walk. That is the whole reason why we’re open, hopefully, so people can get out of the house and get some exercise,” said Karen Gerken, part-owner of White Pines. “If they cannot walk, then we are allowing them to take carts. But we are limiting one person per cart, unless they’re from the same household.”
Ironwood is also limiting the number of people in a cart to one, according to Clubhouse Manager Quinn Frank.
He also says they are cutting down the amount of foot traffic in the clubhouse, only allowing one person at a time to check in. Frank will wear gloves, then disinfect any area touched by a customer before the next can enter.
Public usage of the locker room and restrooms are not permitted at this time at Ironwood.
Both establishments are utilizing variations of foam to use in the holes so players can avoid touching the pin. In order to identify hole location, the flags themselves will remain in the hole.
“The foam sits down about a half inch below the surface of the grass,” said Frank of the holes at his course. “So it will go in, but we’re just saying if it hits the hole it’s good. I’ve been telling them all to kind of develop a gimme range within their group. That way you don’t even have to putt the ball in the hole if you get it close.”
“It’s just one more surface that we’d rather they not touch,” noted Gerken.
The type of foam used at White Pines comes from a pool noodle. Theirs is set up in a way so that the ball can not enter the hole at all. A made shot is counted when the ball makes contact with the foam, thus changing how the game is played for now.
“The game is gonna be a little bit different. It might even be easier,” said Gerken of the new setup.
But, while the changes have good intentions, they also bring on more work for the staff of the courses. Furthermore, more staff is needed than usual at this time of year.
“It’s gonna cause increased staff..by having to sanitize all the carts and all that,” said Frank. “I run this a lot by myself, usually until May. But, this year I’m gonna have to bring somebody in to help do that end of it. Because you gotta keep track of what carts are coming in and make sure they get sanitized and back in line. You don’t want somebody jumping in the wrong cart.”
White Pines has an extensive process for the cleaning of the carts. They pressure wash each one after it is used, then it gets a light spray with a disinfectant.
“We definitely did not clean our carts this thoroughly. So it does involve more people working,” said Gerken on job changes as a result of the new guidelines. “Thankfully, all of my college students are home. So they can work. My college students are working sooner than they normally would. Which is good for them I guess. The cost of doing business is probably gonna be a little bit greater than it was before. And we can’t sell as much.”
Courses are obviously ecstatic they are allowed to be open in a time when many businesses are forced to close to stop the spread of COVID-19. However, they know tough days are ahead should the situation limit them into the summer months.
“If this goes into beyond late May this way, golf courses are gonna struggle,” admitted Frank. “Because they are not wanting league play to happen; outing play to happen. I would just as a rough ballpark, say that league’s and outings are probably on the upward half of 30 percent of your revenue.”
The less carts are used also has a negative effect on the business end of things.
“Revenue, obviously, is gonna be less. Because you’re splitting the carts up one man per cart, instead of getting double that revenue in that cart. And more people are gonna walk,” said Frank.
Gerken admitted she does worry how big of a toll a potential loss of revenue from this season will have on their business, which she owns with husband Peter Gerken and brother Ed Spatz.
“We’re just a family owned business. So we don’t have deep pockets,” she said. “This is our sole income; this is our only jobs. We are definitely reaching out to the SBA (Small Business Administration), and we’re looking at the different grants that are available to small businesses that are our size. We will definitely be seeking financial assistance at this time. And hope that we are able to get something.”
Frank says he has officially canceled the only event they had scheduled in April, the Chilly Challenge which was to be held on Saturday, April 25. He added that the two events slated in May are in “serious question.”
Karen Gerken says White Pines has rescheduled its first event, which was slated for early May, and let their league’s know that the start of their season will be pushed back until May at the earliest.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010