CORONAVIRUS

"Distance" suddenly means something different in golf

With sanitizing galore by course operators, the sport is available to Iowans for now

Kael Loftsgard, 15, of Marion, hits onto the green during a round of golf at St. Andrews Golf Course in Cedar Rapids on
Kael Loftsgard, 15, of Marion, hits onto the green during a round of golf at St. Andrews Golf Course in Cedar Rapids on Monday. (Jim Slosiarek/The Gazette)
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CEDAR RAPIDS — It’s golf season in Iowa.

You can’t say that everywhere. Not in Illinois, Minnesota, Wisconsin. It varies from state to state. You can’t play in England, Ireland or Wales, either.

As of Tuesday morning, 32 states had issued directives not to leave home unless it was necessary. Yet, some of those are allowing golf. The thinking is the sport is safe for people if the course operators and customers adhere to social distancing directives.

“Sorry about the bleach smell,” Hunters Ridge Golf Course club professional Nate Severin said Monday afternoon in the course’s clubhouse, where he was scrubbing down his counter for the umpteenth time. The clubhouse is open just for transactions, not as a gathering place.

“The norm is a lot different, obviously.”

The norm is this: Many courses are taking payment by phone. They aren’t renting clubs, aren’t selling golf apparel and equipment. They’re sanitizing carts after each use. They’re telling people not to touch the flagsticks. They no longer have rakes in the bunkers.

As important as anything, the players are urged to stay at least 6 feet from each other. That, like golf itself, is predicated on an honor system. Is everyone following it strictly? Most of what I saw Monday at three Cedar Rapids-Marion courses — always from at least 6 feet and more from others, I assure you — was people keeping their distance. Most, not all.

“We emphasize it to all of them,” Severin said. “You really can only control people until they leave the (clubhouse) door. Once they’re on the golf course they’ll probably do what they do, regardless. We’re asking for one person per cart, the sticks left in the holes, all those things.”

Bleach is a big part of Kaylon Williams’ job this spring at St. Andrews Golf Club.

“All the carts and keys,” said Williams, a two-time all-state basketball player at Cedar Rapids Kennedy a little over a decade ago. “Each cart gets bleached before it gets returned to the cart barn. The range buckets get bleach water.

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“I tell people we’ll give you your own cart. Most say they want to ride together. We prefer you ride alone.”

Bob and Joyce Crook of Solon played with a third person Monday at Airport National Golf Course.

“We kept plenty of distance between us,” Bob said.

“Today was perfect. A lot of sunshine, not much breeze.

“We’re hoping they don’t close the courses. It’s one of the few things you can get out and do.”

Matt Erger, the owner and pro at Airport National, said “We’ve had a lot of positive comments.”

“It’s like running and biking. You can stay away from other people. If there’s a foursome, we let them have four carts. We sanitize the carts and let them dry before another person rents it out. It’s working better than I thought.”

But these aren’t salad days for course operators. The courses must still be maintained. The greens will still need mowing.

“We’re losing sales on balls, tees, hats,” Erger said. “Our mini-golf is closed because people would be too close to each other.”

“I think people have been very appreciative,” Severin said. “We’re getting more high school and college kids who would normally be in school. Our base crowd of older people, those we’re not seeing. I think the older generation is more shelter-in-place.”

Mitchel Baumgartner of Cedar Rapids spent a few hours Monday golfing at St. Andrews with his son, Kaysen, who will turn 4 in May. The boy has his own clubs. He hit some nice shots. They were having fun.

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“It was our first time out this year,” Baumgartner said. “Everybody was really nice, waving at each other. We weren’t feeling rushed at all. It feels so good when you’re in the sun.”

So there is golf, for now. It seems easy enough for people to keep their distance from others while on the course. So if you’re going to play, do the right thing.

Comments: (319) 368-8840; mike.hlas@thegazette.com

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