Taking Precautions

Area golf course operators add measures to keep golfers safe

Sunrise in Madison, Ind., using foam cups

(May 2020) – The coronavirus has certainly dominated all forms of American life, and one area greatly affected has been the game of golf. While some areas have stopped play completely, many courses have adopted changes, making it one of the few games that can still go on. The two main areas that the golf industry has dealt with are social distancing and contamination. 
Jeff Bridgford, who has been the golf pro at Sunrise in Madison for the last 25 years, has had to come up with numerous ways to not only keep his customers safe but to calm the motorists who travel past the course on one of the busiest roads in the city. Bridgford and Madison park director David Stucker came up with 10 rules that are now posted at the tee for each hole.
“Social distancing was the first thing we had to fix,” said Bridgford. “We established spread-out parking areas at the first tee for carts with instructions that the players were to go to the tee one at a time. We now only allow one person to a cart unless they are residents of the same household. We have also hired rangers to observe play on the course and report any violations of the policies.”

Photo by Ben Newell

Sunrise Golf Course pro Jeff Bridgford found new ways to keep golfers safe during the coronavirus pandemic.

Donnie Hay, who has helped out in the pro shop, has now taken on the role of one of those rangers. “So far,” says Hay, “we have had very few problems. The players get it. They know for the good of themselves and everyone around them they have to keep their distance from each other.”
There are other changes at Sunrise. While the grill is still open, only one person at a time can come into the pro shop; and to spread players out, everyone must call for a tee time.
To battle possible contamination, all ball washers and rakes have been removed. Last year, the PGA established new rules that no longer does the pin have to be removed when putting. This year, to eliminate possible contamination, they recommended that the cup be set up an inch above ground level and the putt be considered holed when it hits the raised cup, and now the pin is not removed.
Bridgford looked for a better solution. After some experimentation, he found that by putting a 2-inch piece of foam from a swimming noodle in the cup, the ball goes in the cup like normal but is easy to remove without touching any equipment. No longer is that welcoming sound of “kerplunk” heard, but it may be replaced by someone hollering “put in on the foam.”
When asked what effect the virus has had on business, Bridgford replied, “It sure has made it tougher. We are constantly sanitizing the carts and anything that someone could have possibly have touched in the pro shop. Grill and merchandise sales have been drastically reduced since no one is hanging around in the clubhouse. The high school teams, along with their sectional as a source of revenue, are gone along with several other outings. But like a lot of businesses, we have to adapt or close.”

Photo by Ben Newell

Mike Dowell at Cozy Acres Golf Complex in Madison also has instituted some new safety measures.

Long time Sunrise member Jerry Dougan is a 79-year-old retired high school math teacher. Dougan is the unofficial head of the O.R.Gs. (old retired guys) who usually play several days a week. Most of them walk the course rather than ride. When asked what kept him playing during this time since he was in a high risk age group, he replied, “I have four reasons. Exercise, distraction, fun (sometimes) and good friends who have enough sense to stay away from me when I am carrying a golf club.”
Mike Dowell owns and operates Cozy Acres Golf Complex in Madison. Dowell is a former head football coach at Madison Consolidated High School and is now teaching at Switzerland County, Ind. He is juggling his preparation for E learning classes that his school has instituted and running a business that is rapidly changing.
Dowell has instituted a sophisticated sanitation program for his carts and pro shop, and he is also using the foam in the holes. The balls for the driving range are now picked up at the clubhouse and have been washed and sanitized before being put out for use.
The business has been seriously affected with fewer memberships being bought and outings and a tournament being canceled, he said. “Being a smaller course, we are always looking for alternative sources of revenue. This year we were going to hit the cart business hard with an emphasis on sales and repairs. All that has now been put on the back burner because of the virus.”
Wes Thomas, who owns Butler Falls Golf Course in Hanover, Ind., said he has mixed emotions on the virus’ effect on his business. “We are certainly working harder because of the sanitation requirements,” he said. “A number of my older employees are not working because of the high risk, leaving me to work more in the pro shop. On the other hand, we are really busy and are seeing some new players – some who are coming from places where the courses have been shut down.”
John Stark is a co-owner at Cardinal Hills Golf Course in Bedford, Ky., and faces all the same sanitation and social distances efforts to keep his course open during this unusual time.

Photo by Ben Newell

Jerry Dougan is a regular golfer at Madison’s Sunrise Golf Course.

He also experimented with the no-touch cups with finally settling on the foam inserts. “As far as the business goes, we haven’t seen much of a change in the amount of play, but our inside sales have been hurt since our grill is closed and few golfers come inside the club house to look at our equipment and apparel,” he said.
The staff at the city-owned Eagle Creek Golf Course in La Grange, Ky., is facing the same situation as all the other courses throughout the country, according to course manager Melissa Breeds. While many courses have been unilaterally shut down by local officials, Breeds says there has been no pressure for them to close. They are using most of the same techniques that have all ready been mentioned to keep their customers safe. Eagle Creek has been busy, especially during the warm weather in early April, Breeds said. “Our customers have been willing to adapt to the rapidly changing rules. And we have been getting a lot more ‘thank you’s.’ They are just happy that we are open, and they can do something that they enjoy.”

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