Golf courses respond to distancing measures
The skies above Woodburn's OGA Golf Course shine blue and are spotted with intermittent cloud cover.
Gusts of wind threaten to blow in the next rain cloud, blanketing the course in precipitation, only for the sun to reemerge an hour later, steaming the moisture off the greens.
It's spring in the Willamette Valley and an unusually mild one at that. An ideal time for golfers to hit the link and begin practicing for the coming summer season.
But the spread of COVID-19 and Gov. Kate Brown's executive order directing Oregonians to stay home has left the local golf industry in limbo. While golf courses are exempt from being shuttered to the public, course managers — like everyone else — are struggling with how to anticipate the coming weeks or months ahead.
"It is a weird spot to be in," OGA Head Golf Professional Mark Keating said. "When the governor's statement came out first, it left us scratching our heads."
Intertwined with Woodburn's Tukwila neighborhood near Woodburn High School, OGA was beginning to see a spring bump of customers come through the clubhouse before Brown's executive order. The direction for Oregonians to stay home, along with the return of spring rains throughout the week, has limited turnout over the past week.
"Sadly, the period where we were trying to adjust was a super busy period," Keating said on Wednesday, March 25. "Today was very quiet, though last week, with that burst of good weather, it was pretty busy."
While Keating said some golf courses have opted to shut down anyway, despite being exempt, OGA remains open for business during the executive order.
Many amenities have been limited or eliminated. Golf carts and pushcarts are no longer being rented out. The driving range is closed, and the restaurant is completely shut down.
But those who want to play the course on foot or simply walk the trails are invited to OGA.
"Start times are booked paid for online or over the phone. We just have somebody here to check people through, wave at them as they go play golf," Keating said. "At this point in time, we're feeling pretty good because we're primarily a touch-free situation."
Golf rates have been lowered during this period due to the lack of full amenities provided by the course. And while the timing isn't particularly ideal, it's early enough that the course won't take significant losses from the decline in customers — provided the shutdowns don't last through the summer.
"Timing is — for golf courses — better now than it would be had this all started on the first of June," Keating said. "Our budget shows that this stretch is not a critical stretch. If by the graces we get up to full speed by mid-May, we will probably do ok."
Whether that projection comes to pass is unknown. Keating said OGA must remain open to keep the course maintained during the spring when the grass grows fastest, making sure the course is ready to play whenever life returns to normal.
"If (maintenance crews are) sent home, then the thing turns into a Chia pet, and then it's hard to get it back," Keating said.
One positive note — for those younger golfers who are cooped up in the house with cabin fever, OGA continues to offer afternoon golf to kids at no charge.
"The kids in this town are pretty fortunate," Keating said. "The ones that want to — at least the last time I checked, they've been getting some practice and playing."
Woodburn Estates & Golf
Woodburn's retirement community and golf course remains open with considerable restrictions. According to a press release sent out Larry Jones — President of the Board of Directors at Woodburn Estates — the community center is shut down, eliminating common amenities such as the auditorium, dining hall, pool room, library, pro shop, swimming pool, spa, exercise center and more.
Golf course employees are wearing protective gear, are keeping six feet apart, and working on a "deep cleaning" in every room where members congregate.
Many Estates residents own and operate their own golf carts.
Langdon Farms Golf Club
The Aurora-based golf course situated adjacent to Interstate 5, remains opens with limited amenities while taking precautions to avoid employee and customer interaction.
On March 23, Langdon Farm general manager David Stead posted an update on golf club's website addressing Brown's executive order, stating "we have posted signs in key areas requiring employees and customers to keep a safe social distance of 6 feet from others and, we will designate an on-duty staff member in each area of our operation to enforce this policy."
Langdon Farms is limiting the number of customers allowed in the clubhouse and requiring power cart rentals to one rider per cart, which will be sanitized along with all pull carts before and after each use.
All food and beverage purchases will be restricted to Langdon's Grill only during the executive order.
Woodburn Golf Club
Woodburn's oldest golf course, located on Highway 219 west of the Woodburn Premium Outlets, is unique among the local courses, not just for its signature sand greens.
Unlike other golf courses, Woodburn Golf Club's green fees are on an honor system, where golfers sign in and deposit money into a box near the entrance of the clubhouse before hitting the links.
Still, with a relatively older clientele compared to other courses in the area, the club is taking measures to prevent cross-contamination with communal areas.
On March 25, the club posted on its Facebook page that the clubhouse will be closed to all group activities and men's league would be suspended indefinitely.
The drags used to smooth the sand greens have been removed, and spacers have been placed in each hole to make the cups shallower, allowing golfers to retrieve their ball without touching the cup or pin.
Common touchpoints like the doors of the outdoor portable toilets will be santizied several times per day, while guests are encouraged to bring their own pens to sign in and follow proper social distancing.
Evergreen Golf Course
The Mount Angel 9-hole golf course remains open with limited interaction between the course operators and golfers.
Players can look for open tee times and book them online at Evergreen's website — evergreenoregon.com. When guests arrive, they can call Evergreen's front desk to pay over the phone using a credit card. No physical money will be exchanged.
Golf carts will not be going out during the executive order, and food and drinks will not be sold.
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