Golf courses remain open — and busy — for a sense of sanity



The tee sheet was overflowing Saturday at The Highlands Course at Lake Arrowhead, which set a club record for most rounds played during a non-tournament day. That old record had been in place for two whole days.

Similar heavy loads were reported over the weekend at The Creek at Hard Labor in Social Circle, Maple Ridge Golf Club in Columbus and Bear’s Best in Suwanee. The hitting bays stayed full at the Georgia Golf Center in Roswell.

In a world that has been paralyzed by COVID-19 restrictions, golf remains an interest that offers a release, a chance to get outside and participate in an activity that seems normal in an abnormal environment. Especially when the weather is nice.

“People didn’t have anything to do, and they wanted to get outside and play golf,” said Uel Kemp, the PGA professional at Lake Arrowhead. “We’re making an effort to make it as normal as possible.”

Some of the state’s more prestigious private clubs — Augusta National and the Atlanta Athletic Club among them — are closed. Some clubs are allowing walkers only.

But many of the state’s facilities — among them each of the Georgia Parks courses — are open for golf only. Safety restrictions have required the clubhouses, dining facilities and bars to be closed, although many permit food and drinks to be ordered and delivered outside.

But for most courses, the tee is open. And busy.

“People have been cooped up, and they don’t like it,” said Karl Gross, the PGA professional at Hard Labor. “They want to get out and once they’re on the golf course and out playing, it feels good.”

All the facilities are taking precautions to prevent the possible spread of the virus. Players often don’t even enter the pro shop, having paid for their round online or with a credit card. Staff members are diligently cleaning countertops and doorknobs, baskets and scoops for range balls.

Golf associates earnestly sanitize each cart that goes out and comes back. Many facilities are requiring one rider per cart to assist with the social distancing component. There are wipes and hand sanitizer are omnipresent — except the heavy rough.

And, as long as there is an option to play, golfers keep taking advantage of it.

“It’s really good to see,” said Chris Asbell, PGA professional and co-owner of the Georgia Golf Center. “It seems more like May than it does March. Our lessons and club fittings haven’t slowed down at all. We’re getting 30-40 calls a day asking if we’re open. They show up and tell us it’s letting them keep their sanity.”

Golf could come a grinding halt, too, if Gov. Brian Kemp decides to impose a statewide quarantine. Georgia’s allied golf associations — the Georgia Section of the PGA of America, the Georgia State Golf Association, the Georgia Chapter of Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and the Georgia Chapter of Club Management Association of America — have made a unified appeal to keep courses open and exempt from any shutdown.

The governor’s executive order mandates no gathering of 10 or more people. But golf courses may remain open, since the participants are spread out over hundreds of acres and social distancing is not a problem. Tournaments are out — the GHSA has postponed all competitions through May 15 — but so far it’s OK for individuals to tee it up.

But courses are subject to the rulings of their local government and could be closed. The City of Atlanta has shut down its courses. The situation remains fluid and is ever-changing.

Five ways to play safer golf

In addition to the common-sense advice to wash hands and use sanitizer, here are some tips to remain virus-free:• Do not remove the flagstick when putting. • Do not rake the bunkers. Use your feet and club to even out the surface.• Pre-pay your green fees in advance, if possible, to avoid interaction.• Limit one rider per golf cart or walk.• Don't pick up those balls you find in the woods — even if it is a Pro VI.