Golf courses modify game, workflow to stay open during COVID-19

Posted at 2:49 PM, Apr 02, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 17:25:50-04

The streets are calmer and quieter than they’ve been in a long time, due to the stay-at-home order by Gov. Mike DeWine.

At local golf courses, however, you can still hear the ping of golfers driving a ball down the fairway.

“I’m going to find a way to swing my club,” said local golfer Jim Ferreri.

Drowned out by that sound, though, is the one that truly makes it possible for golf courses to remain open: the sound of spray bottles as workers sanitize everything in sight.

“We come in early in the morning. We sanitize all the surfaces. Wipe down the handles, the bathrooms, the faucets,” explained Geoff Gilliand, general manager at TPC River’s Bend in Warren County.

“The number one thing I’ve heard is ‘Thank you,’” said Jerod Cahill, who operates and manages The Stephens Golf Center in Northern Kentucky.

It’s been a complicated time for golf facilities.

“I’m constantly watching the news and refreshing the governor’s Twitter feed,” said Gilliand.

Last week, courses in Ohio were ordered to shut down, but just days later, the Department of Health flipped that decision, leaving the call in the hands of local health organizations.

The decision falls under Section 5(C) of Ohio’s stay-at-home order, which allows for outdoor activity.

“I want to stay open for the staff. I want to stay open for the members here,” said Gilliand.

Many local courses are staying open under the condition that they closely follow social distancing guidelines.

“If this driving range wasn’t open on a gorgeous day like this, and if the golf courses were closed as well, then you don’t have a social distancing problem. You have a mental health problem, because I don’t know what I would be doing,” said Ferreri.

Social distancing, from a business standpoint – as laid out in the governor’s order – focuses on limiting interaction, keeping people as far apart as possible, and providing cleaning supplies.

“We’re constantly sanitizing door handles. We’re constantly sanitizing the ball machine, the Toptracers … doing things to make sure people stay safe,” said Cahill.

Many facilities have even made slight modifications to the courses

One widely adopted practice is making the holes on the putting greens shallower. That allows golfers to grab a ball after a made putt without reaching his or her hand deep into the hole.

“There are some clubs that are cutting apart pool noodles and putting those at the bottom of the cup. There are some that are elevating the cup,” explained Gilliand.

His team at TPC River’s Bend has decided to flip the cup upside-down inside the hole. It allows the ball to fall into the hole, but not entirely drop.

“It’s the open air. It’s the opportunity to get out of the house and still have the opportunity to do some things with your family outdoors,” said Gilliand.

In the sports world, the sound of golf clubs swinging is a reminder that spring has arrived.

We will continue to hear that sound, even though the game looks and feels slightly different right now.