While our society continues to deal with the growing threat of the Coronavirus outbreak, one facet of life that is trying to maintain some sense of normalcy and provide active recreation for an anxious population are golf courses.
As businesses all around us close their doors, people are looking for activities and recreation to pass the time, while still finding some semblance of normalcy in an environment safe for customers and staff. Golf appears to be one activity that can meet these criteria, albeit with some significant adjustments in how facilities are operating. Golf seems to be inherently consistent with the concept of “social distancing,” as the activity can be enjoyed, even in groups, without any close physical interaction among players, or among golf facility staff.
While many golf courses and country clubs remain open, some states have put restrictions on golf as a non-essential business and further government mandates to temporarily shut down might increase in the coming days and weeks. For now, many in the golf community are hoping to preserve this activity to give us some outlet to recreate, and yes, to feel normal.
Golf Course Actions
In Florida, where NGF’s Consulting team is based, March is usually the peak season for golf activity and 2020 is actually going okay – so far — in a state that has the most golf facilities in the country. Throughout the month and particularly recently, I have been monitoring the communications of several dozen golf facilities and collecting information about efforts to remain open and provide a safe environment for customers and employees. Following is a compilation of protocols from various Florida golf courses that includes new staff actions, check-in policies, cart use concepts, on-course strategies and clubhouse/F&B considerations:
- Spreading out tee-times to wider intervals (12-15 minutes vs 9-10 min standard).
- Reducing check-in interaction – using some form of remote check-in process (iPad) or makeshift check-in window to avoid having golfers in the pro shop
- Closing the pro shop and moving check-in to the starter booth (often have starter behind glass).
- Allowing credit card and mobile payments only (no cash).
- Encouraging golfers to walk.
- Prohibiting shotgun starts.
- Canceling all group classes and golf academy events.
- Canceling all events and tournaments with option to re-book at later date with no charge.
- Prohibiting any group gatherings before or after rounds.
- Allowing a single rider in carts when available, although wider tee-time intervals help. Exceptions for family members to ride together.
- Extra cleaning and sanitizing golf carts after each use.
- Limiting cart staff from handling customer golf bags to and from cars or assistance with putting bags on and off carts.
- Removing pins from practice greens.
- Removing bunker rakes, ball-washers and other high-touch course supplies.
- Encouraging (or requiring) golfers to leave the pin in when putting.
- Raising all cups one-inch above the surface – “putt ‘till you hit the cup” and then pick up – no need to touch the flagstick. (except on par-3’s to allow for hole-in-one opportunities).
- Adding foam or other easily removable substance in the hole to aid ball removal and reduce need to touch the flagstick.
- Maintaining the golf course with reduced staff and/or staggering maintenance shifts to avoid staff congregation.
- Establishing employee stations to keep staff more than 6 feet apart.
- Suspending caddie operations at facilities with caddie programs.
- Staggering maintenance shifts and assigning each maintenance worker to defined equipment – no equipment sharing.
Clubhouse and Food & Beverage Options
- Closing the clubhouse but allowing golf play.
- Partial clubhouse closure – allowing locker room access from outside only.
- Closing all F&B operations entirely.
- No alcohol allowed (as per state decree).
- Reducing snack bar operation to take-out only – no seating.
- Modifying the snack bar / restaurant by adjusting seating capacity to provide 50% occupancy (as per state regulation).
- Adjusting all snack bar seating to provide at least 6 feet of space between tables.
- Expanding outdoor seating with added spacing between tables.
- Eliminating the beverage cart operation.
- Allowing customers to bring their own refreshments and waiving all “outside food and beverage” restrictions.
Hoping for the Best
It is still early and operators recognize that any new email or phone call might signal a required shutdown. For now, many golf courses are trying to get by in challenging times and offer some form of safe recreation (and distraction) to help those of us in the golf community get through this, while addressing the needs and concerns of employees.
Golf has a way of making us feel normal, so here’s hoping for the best.
Richard has been the Director of Consulting Services for the National Golf Foundation since 1997 and has more than two decades of golf facility consulting experience. During his tenure, he's prepared hundreds of research studies for specific golf facility projects, visited and/or profiled more than 2,000 golf courses and is an expert in matters related to golf facility operation.