By Bruce Meadows
How has Covid-19 affected golf ???
I recently asked a number of golf pros as well as those in golf-related businesses and those who play the game some questions about the effect of the pandemic on the game of golf, and got some interesting replies.
I would like to continue to get comments and thoughts from golfers – pros, amateurs, those in golf-related operations – about how the pandemic has helped or hurt golf, what restrictions were the most difficult and while the game has grown the past year, do you think that trend will level off, decrease or grow?
Here are a few responses:
SSU golf coach Val Verhunce
Bruce, I am not involved in day to day operations anymore, but I can tell you that I have never seen more of an influx of new golfers in my 30 plus years in the golf business.
“Cart restrictions were a big thing. Running out of carts at 10 a.m. was a weird thing.
“I don’t expect this spike to continue but I believe that the game is in a more healthy place than ever.”
Bennett Valley golf pro Jess Stimack:
“ A complete rebirth.
“Young adults are coming out to the course by the dozens, we are packed. We have stuck to the restrictions that were put in place some 11 months ago after we reopened
“I don’t see it slowing down at all . . . these young adults are buying clubs, bags, shirts and hats . . .they are all in!
“Weekend afternoons on the links with friends is the new BBQ . . .drinks, music, laughter.
“It may frustrate some traditionalists, and older folks, but these young kids will eventually become golf traditionalists and older folks, so I think it’s fantastic!”
Santa Rosan John Lienhart:
“At Fountaingrove there has been a tremendous boost in play and in new members . . . (i’m not privy to the numbers, but there are a lot of names on the tee sheet I don’t recognize, as well as the tee sheet being very full most of the day).
“The main restriction (outside of completely eliminating all play early on) that has been modified is the cart policy . . . now we share a cart if both players are vaccinated. The restrictions on rakes and flagsticks still confound me as the virus has not been found to transmit via touch.
“I think that the boost in play is here to stay (maybe not quite as strong as these past few months), but definitely higher than pre-pandemic due to the preponderance of free time as more people work from home.”
Note: I got to know John a few years ago, when he came to our pro shop and asked to go through our barrel of $1 used balls. He gives us five good balls for every one he takes. Seems John collects (and trades) logo balls from all over the world, and presently has more than 7,500 of them!
SSU golfers head to regionals . . .
It was a short season for the Sonoma State men’s golf team, but ultimately, a rewarding one . . . with more to come.
The Seawolves, coached by Val Verhunce, placed either first or second in the four tournaments they were allowed to compete in and earned the No. 1 seed in the West Region tournament, scheduled May 6-8 in Dupont, Wash., with eight teams and three individuals qualifying.
Teams, in order of seed, include SSU, Western Washington, Academy of Art, Cal State East Bay, St. Martin’s (host), Holy Names, Montana State and Northwest Nazarene.
Individuals include Keith Okada (Hawaii Pacific), Matt Fry (Dominican) and Dustin Franko (Hawaii-Hilo).
The SSU women, who played well, just missed qualifying for regionals.
“Some schools in our conference didn’t have anything so we were very thankful. Of course, as we’ve been in the past, our mindset is to go out in our tournaments and play the best we can”, said senior Dylan Otto. “Honestly, we were just looking forward to the opportunity to compete again. This season is something that we have been looking forward to since the end of last year. We had a great team throughout last season, and with the addition of new team members this year, we all know how solid this team can play”
To close out the season, the Seawolves hosted their first tournament since Sept. 15, 2019 at Santa Rosa Golf & Country Club.
Otto was the top SSU top as he finished tied for second and had a crucial 69 (-3) performance in his final round to help secure second place. Otto was able to sink a 30-foot putt for eagle to solidify the Seawolves second place finish and come within two strokes of Academy of Art
“It’s funny because walking down the 18th fairway we had to go as low as we possibly could on that hole to get close to first place or even take the lead and Coach Val told me “I need you to do something crazy” and I was able to make about a 30 foot putt for eagle to better our chances. We didn’t get the team win, which is what I’m really driven for, but we finished strong and left the course on a good note.”
Otto would record three birdies and an eagle on the par 5 18th to conclude the round on a high note.
“The guys just didn’t make many putts at our home event either day until the last few holes each day. I am not sure why we started so slowly but we did and couldn’t catch AAU. We knew going into our home event that we were already ranked #1 in the West and we wanted to make sure we kept that ranking going into the regionals,” said Verhunce.
On April 23, the Seawolves learned their NCAA fate as the regional selections were announced for the NCAA Tournament. With three first place finishes, a second-place finish in the SSU Invite, and several #1 West Region rankings in the weeks prior, SSU was selected overall in the West Region and invited to compete in the NCAA Men’s Golf Championships for the 14th time in program history.
“We were obviously surprised that we held that ranking after finishing second in our last event. I know that our team is ready and will put forth their best efforts this upcoming week and we hope to be making the trip back to Palm Beach, Fla. (nationals) in a few weeks,” said Verhunce.
“As far as expectations this year, we are all looking forward to what we can accomplish. We are looking forward to playing a solid tournament at regionals and making a run at the national championship. Can’t wait to see what’s to come,” noted senior Devin Gregg.
“We have without question one of the best coaches in college golf, let alone our division. Val has pushed us to be better every day, and most importantly, he has kept our team focused all year long on the end goal, to win a national championship,” said junior Thomas Jenkins.
Another view . . .
A longtime friend of mine, who formerly worked for the Northern California Golf Association, responded to my request for pandemic-related golf stories by sending me this article.
It offers some ideas what can be done when people put their heads together to deal with a situation: Here it is:
GOLF SURVIVES PANDEMIC IN YOLO COUNTY AND BEYOND
“What happens when you bring together golf advocates from a traditional muni, a 9-hole, a daily-fee plus two privates and a resort course? In Yolo County, also known as YOLO: the “You-Only-Live-Once” county, things get done.
“When the pandemic hit in early Spring 2020, it seemed golf courses in Yolo County would be closed for an indefinite period of time. That didn’t settle well for golfers at Yolo Fliers Club, who relied on the sport for their regular outdoor activity. Club leadership decided to create a Covid-19 Golf Task Force to figure out a way to get their club reopened, and they quickly realized it was important to reach out to neighboring clubs/courses too.
Golf course operators within Yolo County stand in unison at Wildhorse GC (Davis) all while practicing 6-ft. social distancing. (L to R) Task Force Chair Phil Marler (Yolo Fliers Club), Mark Hansen (Davis Municipal GC), Randy Thomas (Wild Wings GC), Rusty Seymour (El Macero CC), Emmy Moore-Minister (Doctors Orders: Play Golf), Chuck Klein and Charlie Klein (Wildhorse GC), Chris Sheffield (Yocha Dehe GC at Cache Creek).
“Emmy Moore Minister, Founder of Doctor’s Orders: Play Golf, reached out on behalf of Yolo Fliers Club to nearby PGA pros and course operators, inviting them to join a countywide task force with a goal to reopen golf.
“Besides a handful of savvy course operators, the task force included a few resourceful retirees, all local golfers (a former city fire chief, university professor, and hospital administrator) each contributing in a meaningful way to the get-our-courses-open-again project.
“And if that wasn’t enough, the committee had the support of the California Alliance for Golf (CAG), business and community leaders, Sacramento lobbyists, and loyal muni golfers who volunteered to advocate on behalf of reopening golf in Yolo County.
“Due to Covid-19 concerns, the golf-specific task force (which was the first of its kind in Yolo County), quickly got to work in developing a set of operational guidelines which focused heavily on safety, security, and sanitization, with protocols that would be adaptable to all golf facilities within the jurisdiction.
“During this time, Moore Minister also relied on the expertise of Yolo County resident Mike Sharp, PGA, CEO of CourseCo, Inc., a West Coast golf course management company based in Petaluma. Sharp was already working with county health officers in multiple regions throughout the state and beyond. He created a thorough set of Covid-19 guidelines for CourseCo golf courses, and those precise protocols served as a model for other courses and clubs struggling to stay open during the pandemic.
“Priorities included establishing ways to remove all touchpoints and ensure that golfers and facility employees would be in a safe and sanitary environment, where 6-ft social distancing would be adhered to at all times.
“Securing the county’s approval for reopening did not happen overnight, and actually, the first attempt failed. While the committee was focused on establishing ways to get golfers back on the course, the county’s health officer was laser-focused on flattening Covid-19 cases.
“Task force members remained patient, and in the meantime, they shared their draft guidelines and supporting collateral with operators in neighboring counties, who were also faced with the dilemma of course closures.
“Communication outreach continued with Yolo County and follow-up letters were sent to the county’s executive staff, public health officer, and to elected officials.
“Moore Minister, an honorary Member of the NorCal PGA, developed a Golf Spatial Consideration Chart which illustrated the excessive amount of open space that golf provides each player, coupled with its naturally “built-in” social distancing mechanism.
“County staff and elected officials also received data from published medical experts about the numerous Health Benefits of Golf, revealing that the outdoor activity of golf has long-been known to reduce anxiety, improve heart health, strengthen body mobility, burn calories, improve circulation, along with its other wellness attributes.
Back2Golf signs with pandemic protocols . . .
“Complying with social distancing, another Zoom meeting was scheduled with Yolo County officials and task force members, where a comprehensive Golf Course Physical Distancing Plan was reviewed, slightly modified, and accepted. Shortly thereafter, the county’s public health officer amended the health order, and a few days later, all six courses were permitted to open their doors to anxiously awaiting golfers.
“Golf courses continue to be open, with “masking-up” still required in certain locations on every golf property. Tee sheets are full, and golfers of all skill levels are finding enjoyment at their nearby golf course.”
Every golf course and every county have made their own particular efforts to make sure playing golf is safe and fun at the same time. If everyone gets on board, we can get past this chaotic time.
If you have any thoughts on this article or on things you know have been done locally or should be done locally, email me your comments to [email protected]
Let’s hear from you . . .
Thanks for your comments, questions, suggestions. I appreciate them and would like to get as many as possible. If you have information about anything golf-related, including upcoming clinics, activities, tournaments or sales, let me know. And if you have questions, complaints or compliments about golf in our area, let me know.
If you have a golfer – pro or amateur — you know who you think would make an interesting story, tell me about it and I will take it from there. Having trouble with your game? Let me know what it is and I’ll try to get an answer for you from a local pro.
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