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 COVID-19 pandemic.
The Toledo District Golf Association recently sent out a list of recommended changes that area courses adhere to, and a pair of golf courses in Swanton — Valleywood and White Pines — were listening.
Valleywood has completely shut down its clubhouse to customers, utilizing a window in the clubhouse area to check in golfers for their round.
“Our window goes straight to the outside, so that way we can keep them out of the building,” said General Manager Terry Gaylord. “And we don’t let them sit outside in the lobby or anything like that. Normally we would have chairs outside, but those are all taken up and pushed to the side. When they’re done golfing, they have to leave.”
White Pines will also focus on limiting the amount of foot traffic in their clubhouse, but perhaps their top priority is to instruct those that are able, to walk the course rather than take a cart.
But, 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.”
Gaylord says Valleywood doesn’t necessarily steer its customers away from taking a cart, but like White Pines, they are only allowing one person per cart unless from the same household.
Both businesses are taking further measures to keep golfers safe, once they are on the course and set to begin play.
It starts with having a clean and thoroughly sanitized cart to use.
At Valleywood, sanitizing the cart is the first procedure conducted after one is returned. This gets it ready for the next person to use.
Their process has earned praise from customers, according to Gaylord. “Some of our customers that have called us back have thanked us for the way we actually go through and clean it. They really appreciated it,” he said.
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.
Valleywood is also stretching out its tee times, in the hopes of avoiding frequent congregation. Groups are sent out in 12-minute intervals, instead of the usual eight minutes.
On the holes themselves, each establishment has taken preventative action to keep players from touching the inside of the hole or the pin. In order to identify hole location, the flags themselves will remain in the hole.
White Pines has chosen to place foam in its holes, a foam taken from that of a pool noodle. The ball can not enter the hole at all, and a made shot is counted when the ball makes contact with the foam.
This changes the game to an extent.
“The game is gonna be a little bit different. It might even be easier,” said Gerken of the new setup.
The ball will not be able to go in the holes at Valleywood, either, but they have elected to physically raise up the cups above the surface of the ground.
“Foam was another option. We just thought it was easier to raise the cups up,” said Gaylord.
In addition, rakes have been removed from the Valleywood bunkers.
While these changes have good intentions, they also bring on more work for the staff of the courses.
“Sanitizing a cart before it goes out again takes much more time than just hosing it off, drying it off, and putting it back in line,” noted Gaylord. “It’s probably..three times what a normal cart cleaning is.”
At White Pines, more staff is needed than usual at this time of year. “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.”
Gerken says they have elected not to introduce food service at this time.
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 the weather was great, we can only do half the business we would normally do on a good day. Because of one person per cart, plus stretching out tee times. It’s probably not even half of what we could make. The income is gonna be down,” said Gaylord.
Gerken admitted she does worry how big 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.”
Karen Gerken says White Pines has rescheduled its first event, which was slated for early May, and let their leagues know the start of their season will be pushed back until May at the earliest.
Valleywood’s first outing of the season, set for later this month, has been canceled. Furthermore, their April leagues are not allowed to begin.
“We can’t have that many people and get them all out and started. Because there are too many of them standing around, together,” said Gaylord. “Promotes the wrong habits. And it’s hard to control them. Once they’re away from the building. So, our option is we’ve got to spread everything out. Just hold off on the league’s and everything for right now.”
The Valleywood GM summed things up best when he said, “it’s gonna be a tough year.” That goes for not only golf courses, but everyone affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.
Reach Max Householder at 419-335-2010