As the spring sun shines brightly and the dewey grass turns a pleasing shade of green, many golf enthusiasts are eyeing up their clubs and itching to hit the fairway. Luckily for them, they’ll soon be able to get out swinging.
Although the COVID-19 pandemic has made significant impacts on various recreation sectors in our valley, golf courses seem to be safe from some of the enforced closures. As long as they adhere to a very strict list of safety measures, B.C. golf courses have gotten the green light to go ahead with their operations.
Some courses that are situated in warmer climates never shut down at all and were able to keep patrons on the green throughout the entire pandemic. Other courses located in more chilly climates, such as the Fernie Golf Club, are waiting for turfs to toughen up before opening later in spring.
Max Sherwood, the Fernie Golf Club manager and head golf pro said that the course will likely see a later opening this season, not because of the pandemic but because of the late spring.
“As I think most people will appreciate, spring is probably a week or two late arriving this year and as a result, we think that we won’t be able to open from a turf standpoint until closer to the end of May,” he explained.
The question then becomes, what will a round of golf look like once the course does open?
“The protocols are quite extensive,” Sherwood said. “They are very strict and all golf courses that I’m aware of are all following these new ways to deliver golf and we certainly plan on endorsing all of them.”
When the Fernie Golf Club does open their doors, there will be many notable differences. To begin with, only members will be allowed on the course for the first little while.
“We want to do it that way so that we can control our numbers to be able to better control the people who are on the golf course. We’ll know them, they’ll know us and it will give us a chance to try out the new protocols to make sure that everything is running smoothly and effectively with a limited number of people,” noted Sherwood.
After phase one, or members only, comes phase two. Shortly after the members only opening, or once the golf course has tested the efficacy of their new safety protocols, they’ll allow people who reside in the valley to come out and play golf by simply paying green fees.
“Stage three would be opening up to people from outside our valley and that’s once Tourism Fernie and the government have decided that things have subsided enough where we can actively invite people to come from outside areas to our valley to enjoy everything Fernie has to offer,” Sherwood said.
Not only will the course need to regulate who can play, they’ll also institute several changes to how you can play.
Some of the measures are set to ensure limited time hanging around high traffic areas. People will only be allowed to arrive at the course if they already have a tee time and they’ll be prohibited from arriving more than 30 minutes prior to their tee time as well.
The driving range will be open but only for those with a tee time. That will leave a maximum of a half hour for golfers to practice their driving at the range, thereby limiting the number of people using the facility. The driving range stalls will be well spread out, the balls will be in trays to avoid the use of baskets and the golf course is asking people to not use tees because they don’t want people touching their tees and balls every time they go to swing.
Likewise, the practice green will only be available to those golfers who are on deck, or next to tee off at the first tee box. Once the game actually begins, the changes to game play continue.
“We have good interval spacing of ten minutes on the golf course that will keep people well spread out,” Sherwood explained. “You’ll be a couple of hundred yards behind the people ahead of you. We’re obviously practicing physical distancing by keeping people a minimum of two metres apart and once they’re out on the fairways they’ll have lots of room.”
If your ball ends up the sand pit, there will not be communal use rakes to smooth out the sand. Instead, golfers are asked to use their foot to fix their divots after escaping the sand traps. The Fernie Golf Club also intends to fill the holes so that the ball doesn’t actually go into the ground, requiring people to touch the flag to pull it out.
Golfers will also notice that several other regular golf staples are missing. There will not be ball washers, sand or seed bottles at the tee boxes and the drinking water normally found on the course will also be absent.
“We’re eliminating all the touch points,” Sherwood said. “You should be able to play a round of golf without touching anything other than your own personal equipment that you brought here yourself.”
Both power and push carts will still be rented out, with intense disinfecting and sanitizing happening with every use. Power carts will also only be rented out to one person or people coming from the same household. The pro shop will be open but will face restrictions, just like other retail shops in the valley. Luckily for shoppers, all pro shop items will be available for sale on the Fernie Golf Club website.
Despite the challenges that come with operating during a pandemic, Sherwood noted that their membership numbers are on par with what they’ve seen for the past couple of years. He even added that they “may end up getting a couple of new members who want to take advantage of golf because some of the other activities that they are doing might be restricted.”
While every day it seems that another activity or recreation is cancelled due to the pandemic, golfers in the Elk Valley will finally have something to look forward to.
“We’re really excited and we know all the members are really excited to get back out here too. We just have to wait a little bit longer because of the late spring but we’re looking forward to it.”