EAST LAKE — Gyms, recreation facilities, beaches – coronavirus-related closures are affecting nearly all aspects of life. Recreation and fitness destinations are no different.
For now, at least, area golf courses are trying to keep the tee boxes open and, as safely as possible, offer a little respite from current realities. That remains true in Pinellas County after the Board of County Commissioners’ “Safer at Home” order Wednesday, March 25, that further restricts where residents may go and what businesses may operate. “Golf courses are not shut down,” Pinellas County Senior Public Relations Coordinator Tony Fabrizio wrote in an emailed response to The Suncoast News. “Patrons are required to follow social distancing guidelines.”
“We get thanked every day about once an hour for staying open just to give people something to do,” said Adam McLear, assistant golf pro at Crescent Oaks Golf Club, between Trinity Boulevard and Keystone Road, on East Lake Road North. “They see us cleaning everything and doing what we can to stay sanitized.”
Facilities staying open for business reported implementing stepped-up sanitation practices over the last two weeks. Those include plenty of bottles of hand sanitizer in clubhouses and pro shops, wiping down doorknobs and writing utensils and encouraging the use of credit and debit cards as opposed to cash.
“All I smell at this point are sanitizing wipes,” McLear said.
Employees are informing golfers of on-course changes, as well, said Mike Merrigan, assistant general manager at Wentworth Golf Club, on Keystone Road, east of East Lake Road. Golf carts are being wiped down and sanitized after each use and sand trap rakes are no longer on the carts, leaving golfers to smooth the sand with their feet.
In addition, players are being encouraged to leave flag sticks in while putting and hole cups are now upside down so that the ball only falls about an inch into the cup, so players don’t have to touch the surface of the cup while retrieving their balls.
“We’re trying to take all necessary precautions and stay proactive while doing our part and letting everybody have fun in such tough times,” Merrigan said, adding that Wentworth is allowing golfers to walk if they like or go out on a cart as a single player.
As can be expected, many courses contacted for this article reported a noticeable drop in per-day tee times compared to normal operations for this time of year. McLear estimated play at Crescent Oaks is down about 30 percent as the public adjusts its behaviors and as a large quantity of part-time residents, i.e. snowbirds, return home earlier than usual.
Dave Creighton, general manager at Fox Hollow Golf Club, on Trinity Boulevard, east of Little Road, said that the course is remaining open with limited hours of operation. Tee times likely will remain available unless golf courses are instructed to close, he said.
Creighton stressed, however, the facility is focus on operating as safely as possible at a limited capacity. Golf courses have the good fortune of being able to stay open at this point but being inundated with too many people trying to tee it up would not be prudent, either.
In addition to golf, many courses with restaurants in their clubhouses remain open for carryout orders. Facilities are trying to let the public know they’re open for business by sending out daily email blasts and posting on social media sites, like Facebook and Twitter.
“Until someone tells us we have to close we’re going to stay open and give people something to do,” McLear said.