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The Scappoose course has made a myriad of changes to stay open, protect golfers

PMG PHOTO: MILES VANCE - Slader McVey of Portland makes a chip shot during his round at Wildwood Golf Course in Scappoose on Friday, April 10. Wildwood remains open for business but has made significant changes to protect its customers and staff.Golf has been called "the loneliest sport," "a universal language" and "a good walk spoiled."

Now, it was a new title — the ultimate social distancing sport.

In the coronavirus era, golf may be more important than ever to house-bound people looking for escape and exercise, and the folks at Wildwood Golf Course (21881 N.W. St Helens Road, 503-621-3402) in Scappoose know it.

"I feel fortunate to be open," said Bill O'Meara, who opened Wildwood back in 1991, first as a nine-hole course, and a few years later, in its current 18-hole layout. "It's a tough time for all of us, but the joy of everything we're getting from the customers is great, things like 'I'm going crazy. It's great to come out.'"

While most golf courses in Oregon remain open, O'Meara and his employees at Wildwood know there are no guarantees that situation will continue — Washington Gov. Jay Inslee closed all his state's golf courses on March 23 and they have remained shuttered for three weeks now.

"We take this really seriously," O'Meara said. "We take it as a privilege, honor and responsibility to play our part in this. We just try and run the best business we can."

   The fact that Wildwood is open, however, doesn't mean that it's business as usual. Not by a long shot. To keep his business, his staff and his customers healthy, O'Meara and Wildwood's employees have taken a long list of measures to cut down on the chance of coronavirus transmission.

Those include: not pairing up people from different households/families to play in the same group; allowing only one person per golf cart (except for family members/members of the same household); sterilizing golf carts after each use (sprayed down and allowed to sit for 3-5 minutes before being wiped down for the next use); filling the cups on each green with foam so players don't have to touch the flagsticks to retrieve their golf balls; closing the driving range; shutting down the ball washers on the course; and removing the rakes from the course's bunkers.

There are more changes to Wildwood's business model and the use of its clubhouse, too. Other accommodations at the course include: Wildwood has shut down its men's club, its women's club, all leagues and all tournaments; the course no longer allows club rentals; all merchandise sales (golf balls, gloves, soft drinks/juices etc.) are final; the course is no longer selling any beer or food; everything has been removed from the clubhouse (chairs, tables, merchandise) but the pay stations; only two golfers are allowed in the clubhouse at a time and they are required to remain six feet apart at all times; the back deck has been completely stripped of tables and chairs and the course has closed down its popular "Music on the Deck" offering; only one person is allowed in the bathroom at a time and those bathrooms are cleaned every hour; only the customers touch the credit card machine, and the machines and the pens customers use to sign their receipts are sterilized after each use.

Even the scorecards and pencils are spread out and separated on a table so that players will never touch anything they won't use themselves.

"We've made every touchpoint either sterilized or we don't we don't have them," O'Meara said. "We've literally stripped down everything. We've looked at every inch and everything we do — it's been a group effort and I'm really proud of my staff."

The efforts don't end at the clubhouse or first tee either. O'Meara is keeping Wildwood overstaffed so that some of his employees are always on the course itself, observing play and ensuring that players are following social distancing guidelines and best practices. The course also has information on those rules posted outside the clubhouse and on the first and 10th tees.

"We're doing everything to keep people separated and safe. We have canceled everything … until it's safe again to start going back to more normal life," O'Meara said. "We haven't had one complaint or one concern. We keep asking, 'How can we do better? What do you feel uncomfortable at? What can our staff do?' We have yet to have any concerns and we want to keep it that way."

All this caution and downsizing comes at a cost, however. Without the revenue that comes from food, beer, full power cart fees (Wildwood cut its cart fees in half since so many were being used by single riders), the driving range and merchandise sales, O'Meara estimates his business will suffer a significant loss in 2020.

"It's a balancing act," O'Meara said. "Frankly, I'm down 15% this year. … You look at that parking lot and it's full, but you take away half the cart rentals, the food, the beer, the driving range, the rentals, the sales. … All the incidentals that you would normally use at a golf course, that's what we're missing."

Despite that, O'Meara and his Wildwood employees are glad they're able to provide a service — and hopefully, some fun — during a unique time in the world.

"I know there's people that say we should go in our houses and never come out, but life has to go on somewhat or we'll just go crazy if we're all (inside) for three, four or five months," he said. "It's amazing how well it's worked. People are relieved of stress. We see so many smiles out here and I can't tell you how many 'Thank yous' we've gotten."


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