Golf Courses Are Open, but Play It Safe

YOUNGSTOWN, Ohio – Golf is among the few sports that can be safely played while adhering to COVID-19 guidelines, and Ohio courses and country clubs are open – for now.

Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf closed all golf courses in that state, and the same is a possibility in the Buckeye State, where Gov. Mike DeWine continues to take every precaution.

Courses in the Mahoning Valley had been open but were temporarily closed over the weekend. 

A clarification from the Ohio Department of Health on March 29 allowed them to reopen.

“State health department attorneys messed things up last week when the made a decision that the governor’s office didn’t [agree with],” said Allen Freeman, editor of Northeast Ohio Golf, a Cleveland-based website. “They got some backlash and changed their mind… And rightfully so. What the governor’s office was thinking is [golf] is no different from going for a walk in the park, another way of getting fresh air and taking your mind off the craziness.”

State health officials informed county health departments on the evening of March 29 that courses can reopen as long as they comply with all antivirus measures. The final word on whether to close a golf course belongs to each county health department.

While the Mill Creek Park courses in Boardman and Youngstown, along with Henry Stambaugh Golf Course in Youngstown, have been closed by the park and the city, respectively, most others are open.

All must maintain social distancing – one player per golf cart – and are either removing touch points such as sand trap rakes and flag pins, or constantly sanitizing them. Increased staggering of tee times are also the norm, and putting greens, driving ranges, snack bars and pro shops are closed.

Basically, golfers show up separately, play a round with a small group, and then get in their cars and leave as soon as they are finished.

“The 19th hole is on hiatus for now,” said Cory Pagliarini, general manager of Trumbull Country Club in Warren, referring to the typical post-round beverages and camaraderie in the  clubhouse.

Pagliarini agrees that golf is one of the few sports that’s safe to play. “It’s definitely unique in that most of the time the players are not within six feet of each other,” he said. “You can still enjoy a game and time with friends and family, and that’s what it’s all about.”

The country club was open last week, closed over the weekend and remained closed due to the weather before reopening on April 1. It has enacted many restrictions to halt spread of the virus, including decreasing the depth of the cups so players don’t have to reach in to retrieve their ball, removing the flag pins, and practicing “extra diligent” sanitizing of the carts.

Pagliarini expects that members of the country club will continue to play, although he expects numbers to be down by about 25%.

At The Links at Firestone Farms in Columbiana and Reserve Run in Poland, rules regarding touch points are being fastidiously obeyed.

“We’ve taken it to the ‘Nth’ degree,” said Michael Ferranti, general manager. “We removed everything you touch, from flag pins to ball washers, rakes, shoe cleaning stands, everything. We put PVC pipe in the holes that sticks up out of the holes.”

When the ball hits the PVC, that means it’s in the hole, he explained, and the player  can avoid any touch points inside the cup.

Like just about all golf courses in northeastern Ohio, The Links opened in March and got busy almost immediately, except for days that are rainy or too cold.

“League play starts by mid-April and that will be our next step-up in activity,” Ferranti said.

The stay-at-home mandate has caused a higher than usual desire among players to hit the links.

“Demand has been crazy high,” Ferranti said. “Even when the schools and the bars and restaurants got shut down, it was still widely thought across the industry that golf is a pretty safe thing to do… You have 150 acres out there and you don’t have to be close to anyone and still get some exercise.”

Tee times are spaced out in 15-minute intervals, he said, adding that players must reserve a tee time online or over the phone only, and pay in advance. 

“We have only one starter outside to get names and check you off the list,” Ferranti said. “There is no walk-up service.”

He made it clear that it is not business as usual.

“As long as they do it responsibly and safely, we’ll let people use the course,” he said. “As soon as we feel that this is not able to be done, we will not.”

Ferranti said the putting green and driving range are off-limits, the pro shop is closed and golf lessons are canceled and “if you hang around [after playing], we’ll ask you to leave.”

Knoll Run Golf Course near Campbell closed March 25 and 26 after the state health department issued its initial mandate,  but reopened soon after when it got the green light from the Mahoning County health department.

The course has added extra minutes between tee times and limiting groups to four, according to Mike Shulas, general manager and golf pro.

“We’re typically packed all day long, from 9 a.m. to 4 p.m.,” he said; “There are now only 19 tee times per day, and we’re getting a lot of players from Pennsylvania [where courses are closed].”

With league play starting in another week or two, Shulas is scrambling to obtain more golf carts, which are being rented out faster because of the prohibition on riders.

“We will need 140 carts and we only have 76,” he said. “We’re looking at all options to get more.”

Pictured: Reserve Run in Poland.

Copyright 2022 The Business Journal, Youngstown, Ohio.