As the weather has turned, Minnesotans have been itching to get outside. While there hasn’t been an abundance of options for activities, that changed in a big way as Gov. Tim Walz announced at his press conference last Friday that golf courses have been given the OK to open while implementing extra safety precautions.
“It’s important for us to stay active and enjoy the outdoors while preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Gov. Walz stated in his executive order. “This measure will allow Minnesotans to take advantage of more opportunities to get outside while doing their part to keep their neighbors healthy.”
At Albion Ridges Golf Course in Annandale, more than 300 golfers got out and played this past weekend. While the course was filled all weekend long, clubhouse manager Derek White said things went smoothly with the new changes and regulations.
“Our number one thing was safety,” White said. “If we’re going to open our doors for business that we’re able to do that safely is key. Player safety is number one for us. I felt like we were able to accomplish that based on the procedures that we had in place. The way we had it set up was effective and safe.”
Among the precautions that Albion Ridges took this past weekend was to widen the tee boxes to give the players more room to social distance themselves. Albion Ridges also raised the cups a few inches above the ground to eliminate the ball falling into the cup which drastically would eliminate a point of contact with the pin.
“Nobody is reaching in the hole,” White said. “We thought by elevating it, it would completely eliminate the chances for any possibility of the ball staying in the hole. It was very effective to have the ball release away from the cup. The flagsticks were also kept in, and all golfers were instructed that the most stern rule of the day was to never touch the flagstick. There was no need to do so with the raised cups. We eliminated that potential issue just by raising the cups.”
Albion Ridges also increased their tee time intervals. Instead of eight minutes between groups, Albion Ridges is now using 12 minutes intervals between tee times to help keep groups more spaced out on the course. While a big interval means fewer tee times, Albion Ridges has the luxury of being a 27-hole course, which allows more groups to get on the course while still taking social distancing seriously.
“Yes we have fewer tee times, but it’s safer,” White said. “People are more spread out. You’re not having any groups run into each other whatsoever. Getting that extra time between groups enables that tee box to sit empty for two or three minutes if need be. It’s just to space people out even more. That, and having 27 holes is a no brainer. We’re able to spread them out. We’re not only able to move more players through, but we’re able to do so safely.”
White and his staff have also made the tough choice to keep the driving range closed for now. They hope to make it available once they get a safe plan in action in the coming days.
“At this point, we have eliminated the driving range until we feel that we have a 100 percent safe and effective procedure and policy in place with that,” White said. “It’s not something we’re willing to rush in order to sacrifice player safety. We do have the putting greens open, but the driving range is in the process of getting there. We’re going to take things slow. We’re going to do things right. If we can’t do it safely, we’re not going to offer it then. We think their player safety is more important than they do.”
ShadowBrooke Golf Course in Lester Prairie also had a busy weekend as they were reopening since being forced to close due to COVID-19. Owner Tom Schmidt said it was good to be open again as they were busy all weekend long and golfers were following the guidelines in place.
“I found golfers to be very respectful of the rules,” Schmidt said. “It was the first hooray. I’m thankful we were able to be open. We’re making lots of changes to make it easier for golfers.”
While all golf courses around the area are glad to be open by taking extra precautions, there’s a sense of enjoyment as well for the golfers coming to play to get away from things for a bit.
“I think the vast majority of people were just happy to get out,” White said. “It was good to see people out there. So many people were so happy to have some sort of outdoor activity that can be safely regulated. People were happy, and that was something I haven’t heard in people’s voices or seen in their faces before. That to me was the best part of the day.”
The following is a look at new rules and regulations for area courses suggested by Gov. Walz.
Before arriving at the course
• If you are sick or are feeling sick do not come to the golf course.
Upon arrival to the course
• Please arrive no more than 20 minutes before your tee time.
• The CDC requirement for social distancing of at least 6 feet will be enforced throughout the property.
• When you arrive at the course, CALL the pro shop to check-in.
On the golf course
• Ball washers, benches, rakes have been removed.
• All cups have been raised so the golf ball will not fall into the hole. A ball striking the elevated cup liner will be considered holed.
• Please do not pick up your playing partner’s clubs or ball during the round.
• We ask that you forego the traditional post-round handshake.
• Putting green is open but please keep 6+ feet distancing.
• CDC recommendation on social distancing will be in effect on the driving range with dividers which will limit the number of stations.
• Range balls are cleaned between uses by golfers.