Golf courses respond to distancing measures
The sports world has been brought to a standstill.
Stadiums have been shuttered and tournaments have been canceled. Sports enthusiasts are left with limited options as the world responds to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Golf is one place where players can find a measure of normalcy. Sure, the pro tour stops have been postponed, but plenty of people are still chasing that tiny white ball around local courses.
"You aren't really shoulder-to-shoulder any time in golf — the etiquette of the game is go give people room," said Boring resident Eric Gustafson. "I've played 17 rounds in March — I've posted scores the last 12 days in a row."
In light of Governor Kate Brown's 'Stay-at-Home' order issued Monday, any business that is staying open must implement social-distancing policies.
At area golf courses that means clubhouse doors that are propped open with one entrance point and a separate exit point.
Also courses are limiting the number of customers allowed inside and have cleared their sales floors of merchandise. At Gresham Golf Course one person is allowed into the clubhouse at a time, and if they need balls or tees for their round those can be purchased behind the counter.
Similar restrictions are in place at Glendoveer Golf Course with designated taped-off areas where people can stand in line during busy times.
Glendoveer has also installed a 'transaction tango' — when the customer approaches to use their credit card, the sales clerk steps back to maintain that six-foot distance. The two reverse roles when the clerk steps forward to finish the purchase.
In addition, most area courses are accepting card payments only.
"We started implementing a series of changes three weeks ago and we are updating them every other day," said Tom Bugbee, vice president of operations at Glendoveer. "We wanted to be ahead of the curve when it came to eliminating touch points."
At Eagle Creek Golf Course near Estacada, the clubhouse is closed. Customers pay their greens fees at a side window where a dry erase board hangs to inform players of the new social-distancing rules.
"I am someone who is not afraid to say 'No', but hopefully we don't have to remind too many people," said Alaina Bevens, clubhouse manager at Eagle Creek. "So far, I'm seeing people keep their distance and keeping the rules."
The green is one place on the course where players tend to congregate, after all it is the target spot on every hole.
Area courses are requiring players to leave flagsticks untouched, and golfers will have to go without that satisfying rattle of the cup at the end of a long putt.
Glendoveer has lifted its cups above the hole, so a successful putt hits the lip and stays on the green. Gresham Golf Course has inserted a foam pad in each of its cups, so the ball can easily be plucked out, and Eagle Crest is asking players to simply hit close to the cup and award 'gimmes'.
Ball washers along the course have been dismantled and rakes have been taken out of sand traps.
"We want people playing their round without touching anything but their own golf clubs," said Jim Chianello, head pro at Gresham Golf Course. "It's the same as the grocery line, you do your best to provide space — it's easy to stand six feet away and still be able to hear each other talk."
Courses have also adopted a one person per cart rule, while Eagle Creek has started its process with a walkers-only policy.
Glendoveer has closed its tennis courts, but has kept its driving range open — only every other station is operable to honor spacing mandates. In addition, a course staffer hand delivers sterilized balls to each station.
For players it means making adjustments both on the course and at the post-match 19th hole.
"Typically, you would shake hands on the final green. Now we nod to each other and say 'good game' without touching," Gustafson said. "Our club is very social, and I enjoy the time after as much as the time during the round. But we can't do that right now, so we total up our scores and go home," Gustafson said.
"It's saved me a lot of money in beer and lottery tickets," he added with a laugh.
Gustafson is expecting to see 40 golfers spread out around Gresham Golf Course for a men's club tournament Saturday. And during a recent sunny stretch of days, area attendants reported a regular flow of players using their courses.
"The phone is ringing all the time to ask if we are open," Chianello said. "Golf is a sport where you can distance yourself. The idea is to be able to give people something to do outside and to do that safely."
Weekday greens fees at most area clubs come in around $25 for 18 holes and $15 for nine holes with age-group discounts available.
Increased summer-season rates at most clubs take effect sometime in April.
"It really comes down to friendly reminders before we send them out, again on the first tee and anytime we see a problem," Bugbee said. "I'm surprised at how accommodating people have been. People appreciate the opportunity to be outdoors, and they know that following those rules is what allows us to stay open."
This story is scheduled for our Friday, March 27, print edition.
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