With bars, restaurants, beaches and sporting venues temporarily closed to the public, there are few options left to pass the time.
Golfing is one of the last activities you can still do while complying with the local and federal mandates regarding “social distancing.”
Though the nature of golf allows people to be far apart while playing, local courses have also taken some measures to keep the public safe and their minds at ease.
“Quite honestly, we’re doing everything we possibly can to stay open,” said Matt Licata, head golf professional of the five courses that make up Rotonda Golf & Country Club. “Because it is at least semi-controversial that golf courses are open with the whole social distancing deal.
“But we’re doing everything we possibly can think of and continually looking at resources that are putting out new suggestions on how to better protect the golfing population.”
One of the most striking changes is one that’s received the most scrutiny — alteration to the cups.
Instead of leaving the cups as they were, which forces players to touch the flagstick and reach into the hole to remove a ball, cups were raised out of the ground.
That meant that a player only had to hit the side of the cup with a ball to finish a hole.
On the surface, this sounds like a reasonable solution to remove the unnecessary spread of germs, but if you actually play the holes, the game is too drastically changed to still be golf as we know it.
Trying to hit an object with your ball rather than sinking it into a hole affects the speed and angle you can take on putts and greatly improves the chance of a green side chip “going in,” as a shot that would normally go past the cup could hit it.
“Since under these conditions players cannot play by the rules of golf, the handicap committee is suspending posting of Heron Creek scores to the handicap system until the course is returned to normal playing conditions,” an email sent out to club members this past weekend stated. “You may not post scores under these conditions. If you post a score that score will be removed from the system.”
Aside from the greens, rakes have been removed from bunkers as well.
With nothing to repair the condition of the sand after making a shot, this new setup allows players to take a drop in the bunker until they have an undisturbed lie.
Already, some courses have altered their strategies for avoiding contact with flagsticks and cups.
Now, some clubs are inserting small circular PVC pipes into the cups and putting the flagstick through the center. When putted into the hole, the ball comes to rest on top of the pipe, allowing the player to retrieve their ball without touching the cup or flagstick.
Not only is this a more satisfying experience — the best part of golf is sinking your ball in the hole — but it also allows players to count their scores toward their handicap.
“The vast majority of our members have responded well to this change from having the cup extend above the ground level as was the case last weekend,” an email update from Heron Creek on Tuesday stated.
“Members report that the sleeve has little to no effect on the ball going in or not going in the hole. The sleeve may be replaced by a different device in the near future.”
Along with keeping the course as germ-free as possible, local golf clubs are also emphasizing cleanliness and social distancing in and around the clubhouses, too.
Golf carts are disinfected and cleaned upon each use, cashiers and some rangers are required to wear gloves, water coolers have been removed, dining rooms and bars have been limited to to-go orders only and customers are being asked to maintain 6 feet of separation.
With advice from medical experts and a little trial and error, clubs are doing what they can to make sure their customers can retain at least one outlet for relaxation — even from a distance.
“There is a measure of people getting stir crazy and getting cabin fever. So we’re trying to be one of the last places people can go and get out,” Licata said. “A lot of these people don’t have a lot of family down here and their golf partners are the only people they see day-in and day-out.
“If they don’t have golf, they’ll be alone in the house. So we’re trying to keep everyone’s best interest at heart.”