While the greens and fairways have fallen silent at Hunter Golf Course in Meriden, they remain bustling at the other area courses in Southington and Wallingford.
Or at least as bustling as you can get in these times of social distancing.
Southington Country Club, Hawk’s Landing Country Club, Wallingford Country Club, The Tradition Golf Club at Wallingford and The Farms Country Club have all been open since the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development gave golf facilities the green light to re-open last Wednesday so long as safety precautions were followed to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
The new rules of the game weren’t always followed at Hunter, which is why the City of Meriden closed the municipal course on Monday. At the other area courses, golfers have been reportedly toeing the line.
“My members are doing an outstanding job to adhering to all of the policies; I monitor them pretty close,” James Hanlon, club pro at The Farms, said Tuesday. “They know the deal; they don’t wish to be shut down. They are paying attention to what they need to do for us to keep the lights on.”
The list, in bullet point, can be found on the web site of the Connecticut State Golf Association and the web site of just about any golf course. For starters:
■Clubhouses, pro shops and club restaurants are not open for retail (though take-out is OK).■Those who can walk, should walk.■Those who can't, ride one per cart.
Area courses are strictly enforcing the one-golfer-per-cart rule. Hawk’s Landing does make an exception. It allows two to a cart if the golfers are from the same household.
Courses report cleaning the machines thoroughly. Hanlon says The Farms uses a steam cleaner on its carts. Tradition-Wallingford has eliminated them entirely for the time being.
Golfers are also advised to pay online or make reservations over the phone. Tradition-Wallingford, for example, has streamlined online paying and uses an I-pad to check in golfers at a table outside.
Golfers must handle their own equipment and stay at least six feet apart.
“We’ve noticed people are following the rules — no bag staff, no one handling equipment, go straight from the car to the tee,” said Dave Giancondino, club pro at Tradition-Wallingford. “There are enough people going around, looking at what’s going on.”
While putting greens have remained open, driving ranges have been closed. Courses have been modified. Bunker rakes and ball cleaners have been removed. Some, like The Farms, have even taken out benches.
Another major adjustment involves flagsticks. They stay in the holes. No pulling them out to putt. Cups have either been raised, placed upside down or outfitted with Styrofoam or PVC inserts so golfers don’t have to reach inside and retrieve the ball.
“We’ve been open and we’ve been adhering to the CDC rules,” said Wallingford Country Club pro Steve Birkmeyer. “We our keeping our social distancing for our walkers. We have no ball washers on the course and the flag sticks are up so the ball doesn’t go into the hole.”
That said, Wallingford Country Club did see the area’s first hole-in-one of 2020. It was carded by Jim Augur, who aced the 135-yard 11th hole with a 9-iron.
“Carded,” though, is actually a misnomer. Another coronavirus casualty: scorecards and pencils. They are not being handed out.
Another recommendation has been to space out tee times to at least 10 minutes. Tradition-Wallingford is sending its groups out every 12 minutes. At Hawk’s Landing, it’s every 15 minutes.
Hawk’s Landing is also letting single golfers play on their own. Previously, single golfers would have been grouped together.
The habits dying hardest, it seems, are those of the post-golf variety. This is a social sport, after all, no more so than after the 18th hole.
Groups congregating in the parking lot were a major issue at Hunter. Other courses quickly strove to put a lid on that.
“The first day it was a problem,” said Nick Paradis, the director at Hawk’s Landing. “When they are done golfing now, they disperse.”
“It’s important people adhere to these rules,” Giancondino said. “Don’t congregate. Say goodbye to each other.”
The flow of golfing has been steady, at least when the weather has been good. Hanlon reported 110 golfers daily at The Farms.
“Very busy,” Hanlon said. “People are thrilled to be out and about. This has been the oasis.”
Giancondino said the tee sheet at Tradition-Wallingford was filled from 8 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Thursday and again Friday. Paradis had sent 12 groups out by 2:30 p.m. on Tuesday when he spoke to the R-J.
“We are open in March, so we can’t complain,” Paradis added.
Early golfing after the mild winter, an “oasis” amid a pandemic: the local pros are right. Golf is providing much-needed sanctuary. That’s why, they say, it is so important not to let it get away.
”A lot of people are stuck at home, not working at all; it’s one little break for the day,” Giancondino said. “We are trying. We want to stay in business and provide an outlet for people to get outside and stay active, but if it’s not done with safety precautions in mind, it’s not going to work.”