Like most businesses during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, golf clubs are trying to figure out how to maintain elements of their operation while still protecting the safety of their employees and members.
After consulting with staff and management teams, most clubs appear to be opting to keep their golf course and any practice facilities open for now but perhaps limiting dining. Any carts remaining available are being heavily sanitised, but with the understanding that many members would not feel comfortable riding. Some clubs are encouraging members to take their clubs and shoes with them to reduce the number of “touches”; others are requesting golfers do not shake hands and offer a wave instead.
Other clubs are taking additional steps. Flagtsticks are to remain in the hole and bunker rakes have been removed from some courses – all in an effort to limit touch points. Carts are being restricted to one person per cart unless immediate family.
At this time, these actions feel appropriate, sensible and safe. It also seems a reasonable way to allow golfers to enjoy golf clubs during what is an unsettling time.
However if the situation escalates, further discussions are sure to arise. What do we do with ball washers and rubbish bins? Do clubs open their tennis courts (if you’re playing doubles that means four players are touching the same ball), swimming pool and barbecue areas if they have them? And what happens when clubs run out of sanitising products? So many things to consider, all through the prism of trying to do what’s safe while offering people a respite from a distressing 24-hour news cycle. A bit of normalcy. A bit of fresh air.
Short of mandates at the government level, every club has to make its own judgments based on the best information available, then adjust if needed. Many clubs we’ve heard from have reflected similar steps – trying to keep the golf course open, heavily sanitising carts and limiting (or discontinuing altogether) food service.
Pacific Dunes Golf Club in the Port Stephens region near Newcastle told its database of members and regular golfers that it is business as usual, with some precautions.
“We’re reminding everyone who uses the golf course, Country Club (know as The Greenhouse Eatery) and resident facilities, to follow guidance from public health authorities,” says the club’s e-mail.
Royal Canberra Golf Club [pictured] sees itself as having a crucial role amid the pandemic, a sentiment likely shared by all clubs.
“Keeping our facilities operational for as long as possible, particularly our golf course, is paramount during a time [when] members will want to utilise the facilities due to other disruptions caused in their lives,” a Royal Canberra club memo stated to its members. “Maintaining a low-risk leisure activity for members will be vital for everyone’s health and well-being.”
The prestigious ACT club added it will not be restricting reciprocal and guest play, however guests will be required to provide a written declaration that they have not been overseas in the past 14 days, and have not been in contact with someone who has been overseas in the past 14 days.
In a note on its website, Golf Australia, our national body, reminded clubs that yesterday the Australian Government announced that all non-essential indoor gatherings of 100 or more would be banned. “This will have a significant impact on clubhouse operations for many golf clubs and facilities. Golf Australia recommends that clubs and facilities who – during the course of regular clubhouse operations – often have 100 or more people within their clubhouse at any given time now put in place alternative operational plans.”
The note went on to add that those operational plans may include:
- Extending clubhouse services to outdoor areas.
- Removing ‘shotgun’ and ‘two-tee’ starts to reduce peak service loads in clubhouses.
- Limiting the patrons who may enter the building at any one time.
- Limiting bookings for dining services, accordingly, taking into account staff numbers that will be present in the building.
- Increasing use of ‘halfway huts’ and ‘catering carts’ to minimise the requirement for clubhouse use.
- Reviewing the requirements for clubhouse operations.
“It will continue to be important for club boards and management to review contingencies to plan stages ahead for club operations should public information change,” Golf Australia advised
Meanwhile, the Australian Sports Turf Managers Association is offering a raft of examples of changes for facilities that will help reduce the risk of transmission of COVID-19 on the playing arena:
- Consider split shifts for turf management staff to help ensure continuity should self-isolation among turf maintenance staff be required.
- Review opportunities for staggered start times for turf management staff.
- Developing alternating staff rosters for match day requirements and regular turf management requirements.
- Sanitise equipment, motorised carts, line-markers, buggies and all-purpose vehicles and air compressor handles before and after use.
- Place signage around the facility and maintenance areas along with hand sanitisers.
- Assigning individual staff to maintenance vehicles.
- Remove shared food and drink items in lunch rooms and maintenance sheds.
- Encouraging employees to have breaks including lunch in outdoor areas where practical, such as eating lunch in open spaces or open areas of the course/facility.
- Where possible, leaving doors ajar removing the need to push doors open or turn door knobs.
- No hand-shaking and maintaining social distancing requirements as far as practicably possible.
- Remove items such as shoe cleaners, sun creams, hair brushes and combs, hair gel and hair dryers from locker rooms.
- Limit, restrict or removal of ball washers, rakes, other course furniture.
- Encourage staff to wear gloves when using equipment, removing poles/flagsticks and when hand-watering and modified local rules to avoid players touching flags.
Overseas, some clubs have come up with some creative ideas worthy of consideration.
In America, several clubs are taking the additional step of raising cups slightly above the putting surface and deeming any putt to hit the cup as holed to eliminate the need to touch the cup or flagstick. Others are offering members a 5 percent discount on future food and beverage purchases as a way to generate cash flow during this time when revenue is scarce. Rye Golf Club in New York now has access to its clubhouse by appointment only.
Such steps are more the norm than the exception but right now, no steps feel excessive.
If you are concerned about your golf club and staff, visit www.health.gov.au for more information.