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Oregon allowed all of its golf courses to stay open, unlike the neighbor states

RON HALVORSON - Trenton Brinkley sanitizes the touch points on a golf cart at Meadow Lakes Golf Course. One of the new pandemic-related rules at Prineville's Meadow Lakes Golf Course is that no more than one person ride in a cart. While the pandemic has prompted the course to put some new rules in place, it hasn't stopped golfers from coming out and enjoying the sport.

A brisk wind at Meadow Lakes golf course on Thursday didn't keep local golfers from the links.

Neither did COVID-19.

According to Zach Lampert, Meadow Lakes' course professional and facility manager, the course is one of the 75 percent statewide that remain open in the face of the pandemic.

"They did not include golf courses in the shutdown," he says. "Our neighbors, California and Washington, they both shut golf courses down, so we were pleasantly surprised that we were able to stay open."

But it's not quite business as usual.

"We know that it (remaining open) would come under a little bit of a microscope, so everybody in the golf community's working hard to show that we're taking it seriously and doing everything we can do to stay open."

The focus, Lampert said, is to get golfers to maintain social distance and to eliminate community touch points. Courses that have stayed open have been innovative in how to address this.

"The first thing is our clubhouse's closed. So people call in (to get a tee time) and we take their credit card over the phone."

If someone just shows up and hasn't called ahead instructions are posted on the clubhouse's window.

The golf carts create challenges for both distancing and touching. To create distancing, he said, they're only allowing single riders unless it's immediate family from the same household. Two friends playing together, for example, have to take separate carts, and for a foursome, you'll see four carts on the fairway, a strange sight to be sure. However, since cart use is charged per golfer, it makes no difference in cost.

"It limits our ability," he explained. "We have 54 carts, so obviously if we have a lot of people riding we run out a little bit quicker than normal. Our capacity's not quite as much right now."

Once the carts are returned they're cleaned, both with a water wash and a virus-killing disinfectant spray.

"Disinfectant spray is harder and harder to find, but we have a pretty good stockpile."

Lampert said they spray the steering wheel, cubby holes, handles, back strap, and everywhere else people touch, and then let the cart sit for 15 minutes to dry before it's released for another golfer or put away.

Some people bring their own carts, he noted, and some even bring their own disinfectant.

"Some people show up, they have their Clorox wipes or whatever, they wipe it down which is good, too, and gets it a little extra clean."

Once on the course, social distancing must be practiced and reminder signs are posted at every hole as well as at the clubhouse. Protective masks, though, aren't required.

"We see a few people that wear masks, more just around the clubhouse," said Lampert. "Once on the course, not really. We're probably getting a few more walkers than normal, because that's probably the safest way to play right now. If you're walking there's no potential exposure at all."

The basic rules haven't changed, but the accoutrements have.

"Normally in the sand traps you have rakes, so after you get out of the sand, you rake your spot so it's nice for the next person. That means everybody's touching the same rake, so we've taken the rakes out for now." Instead, the bunkers are machine-raked several times daily.

Gone, too, are the ball washers, benches, and the flags from the practice green, to eliminate touch points. The flags on the course, however, remain, but they are to stay in the holes and not removed during putting as is the general custom.

The cups have also been modified. Normally, Lampert said, they are 6 inches deep, requiring a deep grab when the flag is removed to retrieve the ball. Once again, to eliminate a touch point, the cups have been inverted so they are only an inch deep. Balls can be retrieved without touching anything else. Of course, that satisfying sound of a ball bouncing around in the cup for now remains only a memory.

Some items cannot be modified or removed in which case they're sanitized on a regular basis. The driving range baskets and balls are sanitized. Refuse containers are sanitized. Bathrooms, which are sanitized anyway, are treated every couple of hours.

Most golfers have been supportive of the changes.

"Generally it's been positive. People, for the most part, have taken the attitude that they're happy that we're able to be open still, with so many other things being shut down. They feel that the steps being taken are reasonable, and if followed, will keep you safe, and are following rules so they can continue to play."

Clay Smith, a local golfer Lampert characterized as a "regular," has taken it all in stride.

"The biggest thing is," he said, "you have to be more conscious of this issue we're dealing with. You're not riding in the cart with anybody because you want to have that distance. It's kind of disappointing not being able to hobnob and have the traditional kind of beverage after you're done. And of course the men's league, they haven't allowed that to start.

"You make allowances. Anytime you go play golf somewhere else, maybe the conditions aren't as good as where you're used to playing, you make allowances. It's OK. You're out there playing golf. Like any other sport you're really in love with, they can't take that away from you."

Smith observed that 85 to 90 percent of the golfers are following the rules.

"Golfers are pretty conscious of they don't want to lose their privileges," he said. "If people are getting out of line, they're saying stuff. Most people are getting it. Those that are playing a lot have acclimated themselves to it. It is what it is. You want to play golf; this is what you've got to do. That's not too big of a sacrifice."

Perhaps since golf is one of the few shared recreational activities still allowed during this pandemic, the daily activity at Meadow Lakes has actually picked up a bit, according to Lampert. Revenue, though, is down because of the pro shop closure and loss of tournament play.

"Rounds are up 15 to 17 percent compared to last year," he said. "Not a lot more, but a little bit more.

"We're happy to have the people out, for sure."


Meadow Lakes golf course is open for business

Call 541-323-2787 to book a tee time.

Have your payment information handy.

Ron's Comfort Food Cafe remains open Wed-Sun for takeout orders only.

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