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PA Golf Courses Open, But With Changes

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Local pros are scrambling to enact guidelines.

On Monday, April 27, Dan Malley was alone in Paxon Hollow Country Club’s pro shop having another quiet day. The Media golf course had been closed for weeks in accordance with Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf’s COVID-19 mitigation orders to close nonessential businesses. Suddenly, at about 3:30 pm, both Malley’s cell and the shop’s phone started ringing. “That’s how I got the news that we could reopen on Friday,” he says. “Everyone wanted a tee time.”

A similar scene played out at White Manor Country Club in Malvern. “My phone blew up with calls from members and other industry professionals,” says general manager Jason Voight. “There was a lot of excitement. Then it was like, ‘OK, how do we do reopen safely?’”

In the absence of official guidelines from the governor’s office, local country club managers and golf pros cobbled together COVID-19 safety protocols. On Wednesday, the Pennsylvania Alliance for Golf issued guidelines in accordance with mitigation efforts issued by the Pennsylvania Department of Health. They include protective masks for employees, spacing tee times, and the removal of scorecards, ball washers, coolers and even tees. “Any common touch points have to be eliminated,” says Dave McNabb, head professional at Applebrook Golf Club, also in Malvern. “We’ve also introduced extra disinfection procedures, and we ask members to socially distance while on the course.”

That ability to keep your distance is one of the reasons courses can reopen, pros say. “Golf is a sport that encourages social distancing, and the physical benefits of getting exercise, fresh air and sunlight are hugely beneficial,” says Voight. “Being able to provide that to our members means the world to us. We’re doing it carefully, cautiously and with control.”

That control has been relegated to management teams at individual courses—and they’ve had to pivot at lightening speed. May 8 is the projected date some facilities would be permitted to reopen. “While we’re thrilled, we would’ve liked more information about safety procedures,” Malley says. “It’s disappointing that the state didn’t take the initiative to provide universal guidelines for us to follow.”

Malley and his colleagues at other courses pooled information, even consulting with pros in other states. So they’re confident in their mitigation plans. “Our goal is to open and remain open with zero cause for concern about infection,” says McNabb. “I didn’t even start taking tee time reservations until we knew what our plans were.”

Now, courses are largely uniform in procedures to disinfect carts, electronic registration and payment. While clubhouses remain shuttered, restrooms will be available and regularly disinfected. Food-and-beverage service is takeout only, and some courses will have outdoor snack bars. “It’s a different environment, but the golf itself is the same,” Voight says. “We look forward to getting our members back on the course.”

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