Gov. Ralph Northam announced on Monday all fitness centers, gyms and indoor exercise or sports facilities were deemed non-essential businesses and therefore must close as the state continues to fight the spread of COVID-19.
Coupled with the absence of organized sporting events at the high school, college and professional levels, there is a sudden dearth of sport and recreation activities.
Excluded in the governor’s order, though, were golf courses. Those in the Danville area have since implemented new procedures for golfers as they try to present themselves as a safe leisure and recreational activity.
“The other day when [Northam] had his speech,” said Craig Gunn, the head golf professional at Danville Golf Club, “I spent the next hour just reviewing what he actually said to clarify that the golf courses could still operate as long as they were along the guidelines of social distancing.”
Gunn said the private club with about 300 members has removed all rakes from the bunker areas, drained all of the ball washers and removed all towels from circulation. The clubhouse restaurant is also only taking to-go orders.
“I think to some extent people are trying to find some type of activity that they can do while we’re going through this,” Gunn said, “and we’re just trying to make it as safe as possible for them to do so and protect ourselves as well.”
Mark Hopkins, the PGA professional at Southern Hills Golf Course, said his staff has cut up foam pool noodles and inserted them into the cups so golfers don’t have to reach all the way inside the hole.
“We also don’t want people to take the flagstick out at all,” Hopkins said. “We’re cleaning the carts, sanitizing the carts, especially the steering wheels and things like that. As far as the bunkers, we’re telling people to free drop out of the bunkers. That way they don’t have to feel obligated to pick up the rake.”
Gunn said Danville Golf Club has also raised the cups on its greens to reduce reaches into the hole.
Personnel at Goodyear Golf Club could not be reached Thursday, but a statement on the club’s website also detailed the precautions being taken. That list included the removal of bunker rakes, towels and water fountains around the course and pro shop. The statement also said golf carts and other high-touch surfaces would be cleaned several times a day, and only one rider would be allowed per cart.
“As we all attempt to get through these unprecedented times in our society, it is the goal of Goodyear Golf Club to allow our patrons to enjoy a few hours in the great outdoors while not endangering others in our midst,” the statement read.
Gunn said he had not seen much of a drop off in activity at Danville Golf Club recently, and they are limiting activity in the pro shop.
Southern Hills also is restricting the number of people in the clubhouse at one time, Hopkins said, but he added he is also seeing far fewer players than normal. He noted a pro-am event scheduled for last weekend usually draws about 50 players, but only 12 showed up.
“It’s definitely having an impact on business,” he said. “People are scared, and I can’t blame them.”
Gunn said while they are also cleaning the carts more regularly, many members have opted to walk the course during the past two weeks.
“Just keeping their distance and enjoying an activity is nice to see as long as we’re allowed to provide that service,” he said.
Parker Cotton is a sports reporter at the Martinsville Bulletin and Danville Register & Bee. You can reach him at (276) 638-8801 ext. 215. Follow @ByParkerCotton.