Game on, as local golf courses are allowed to stay open during state's executive order
The war is far from over, but at least for now, small business and mental health have won a battle against COVID-19.
While the state of Oregon joined a number of growing states, issuing "Stay home" orders this past Monday, March 23, Governor Kate Brown's order allowed some wiggle room for a variety of outdoor activities.
The order prohibits all non-essential social and recreational gatherings of individuals; closes and prohibits shopping at specific categories of retail business; requires businesses not closed by the order to implement social distancing policies; outlines new guidelines for child care facilities; and closes playgrounds, sports courts, skate parks and other types of outdoor recreation facilities. But what it doesn't do is close golf courses, and that's music to local owner and operators' ears.
"It's a learning curve and it's tough, but we're taking it a day at a time," Quail Valley Golf Course Head Professional and General Manager Doug Hixson said. "People appreciate that we can stay open, are staying open and have been open. So as long as we can, we'll do that."
As part of the order that is allowing courses like Quail Valley to remain in operation, they must "adhere to social distancing guidelines."
The Governor's office issued the following statement clarifying the stance on golf.
"Golf is allowed as long as the social distancing measures are in place, country club activities for a gathering would not be allowed. We categorized golf similar to a hike or outdoor activity, rather than through "essential travel" which is meant to stop vacations."
Forest Hills Golf Course Superintendent and General Manager Marcus Speros said they, like the other courses in the area and state, have created a number of provisions that have helped limit physical contact, with both the employees and customers' safety and health in mind.
"I do feel like we've created a safe environment for people," Speros said. "We've done everything we can under our control, but at some point it's up to the playing public to maintain that six feet. We can only do so much on our end, so once they go onto the course it's up to them."
What's happened at Forest Hills, much like at local courses such as Quail, McKay Creek, The Reserve and Pumpkin Ridge, is that the pro shops and restaurants have been closed to the public. Golfers are paying either in advance over the phone or online, or onsite via technology which allows no physical contact. Speros said that thus far things have worked rather well, and that as a result they're able to provide a safe and healthy activity, while simultaneously continuing to keep dedicated employees on staff.
"It's been pretty seamless," Speros said. "We've been able to collect payment without ever having to touch a credit card or cash, and we feel pretty good about that.
"Also, from an employee standpoint it's been great because people have been able to continue to work and earn wages, and secondly we've had a number of people over the last week that have said how great it's been that we're open. There's not a lot of other things that we're able to do, and golf is a great outlet for people to be able to get outdoors safely and unplug."
And what are they doing? Aside from the payment protocol, most have removed the rakes from the sand traps, practice area flags are gone, garbage cans and ball washers have been removed, and at places like McKay Creek, mechanisms have been put in the holes so to allow players to retrieve their ball without touching the flag stick. In addition, some have eliminated the use of pull and power carts altogether, while others have limited carts to single riders.
Forest Hills, like most others, is sanitizing the carts and keys both after use and every morning. Speros said the cart limitations come at a cost, but ultimately it's worth it considering what's at stake.
"We're doing single cart riders only, which logistically will be tough because if we get a nice day we will run out of carts," he said. "But it's really about providing the safest environment possible, and we think that helps do that."
Hixson said they're making sacrifices as well, blocking every other tee time in an effort to keep people further apart and limit the number of players on the course simultaneously. They also lowered their rate to $25 for 18 holes every day of the week, down as much as $11 from the norm.
"I've talked to Dominic Marconi, head of the OPGA (Oregon Professional Golfers Association) and he's been our point man as far as what you can and can't do," Hixson said. "And I've been talking to a number of the golf professionals around the area and we're trying to get this right."
And it's working. Golfers flocked to the courses over the past weekend and as the result of precautionary measures already in place, people were able to gain the much needed relief they desired, while doing so in an environment designed to protect everyone involved — and that's priceless to both the merchant and customer alike.
"I had a conversation with a family, a mother, father and two daughters that played last Saturday, and they were really thankful to us for being open and allowing them to get outside as a family and do something productive together," McKay Creek golf professional Jesus Gonzalez said. "They said it helped them feel a little normalcy, and that felt good to us. And we take that role seriously."
Hixson heard similar sentiments from many at his course.
"A third of the people say we're just so happy to get out of the house, and that 'this is the safest place we can be,'" he said. "We heard that stuff a ton."
There's no timetable as to how long the courses will be restricted, nor to how long they'll be allowed to operate at all. After-all, the situation is fluid. But as long as they're allowed, they'll be open, safely operating, and providing a necessary escape for people who undoubtedly need it.
"We're hoping to stay open as long as we can," Gonzalez said. "As long as we can maintain space, it's a great thing we can provide."
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