Several golf courses on Vancouver Island have re-opened with strict precautions amid the COVID-19 pandemic.
“It’s controlled enjoyment,” said Patrick Chury, general manager of Gorge Vale.
The main precautions being taken in the recreational golf world are that players have to be club members, stay two metres apart and walk the course. Use of carts is severely restricted. Shaking hands and high-fives are prohibited. Touchpoints, such as bunker rakes and benches, have been removed and flagsticks can’t be handled. Ball washers have been modified. PVC pipe stops putts from going to the bottom of the cup so hands don’t touch the pin or cup.
Foursomes have become threesomes and the interval between tee-off times has been increased. Golfers can arrive at the course only 20 minutes before their tee time and must depart immediately after their round concludes. Clubhouse, locker-rooms and pro shop are all closed.
“A lot of members have come out since we opened Saturday and are enjoying the outdoors,” said Chury.
“We are finding that the [two-metre] separation has worked very well. We have also increased our interval time [for tee-offs] from eight to 12 minutes. It’s members only with no guests, reciprocals from other clubs or walk-on public players allowed. No one hangs around. Everybody goes to their cars right after their rounds. It’s been very good.”
Island courses that have opened, for club members only, include Gorge Vale, Bear Mountain’s Valley Course, Cowichan, Duncan Meadows, Mount Brenton in Chemainus, Pheasant Glen and Eaglecrest both in Qualicum Beach, Arrowsmith in Parksville and Crown Isle in Courtenay.
Victoria Golf Club and Storey Creek in Campbell River will open today, Morningstar in Parksville on Thursday and Highland Pacific and Uplands on Monday.
Royal Colwood will meet soon to discuss its re-opening date.
“We expect more courses to be opening in May,” said Chris Elder of Golf Vancouver Island, the destination marketing group for 14 Island courses.
“Golf is a safe activity when following the protocols that have been put in place.”
Golf Vancouver Island, however, is advising people to swing the clubs and irons only on their own courses and not travel to outside communities to play the game.
“We are definitely shifting our messaging about that,” said Elder.
“Don’t travel, but support your local course. It’s a great way to stay local while getting some fresh air and exercise.”
It is estimated six million Canadians play at least one round of golf per year in an industry that employs 300,000 people nationwide.
Pro tournaments have either been cancelled or postponed, including the DCOpen presented by the Times Colonist, scheduled for early June at Uplands. But recreational golf is re-emerging.
“I think it is a challenging one, because I think it is very important for us to get out, to be able to go outside. But we need to do it, again, with our family, with our household, and not be connecting with other people,” said Dr. Bonnie Henry, provincial health officer for B.C., in a recent response to a reporter’s question.
“So some golf courses, I understand, are still open. But not the clubhouses, the place where you eat, not any of those other places. Tennis courts the same way.”
Henry said that golf can be played if distancing practices are followed. “I think if you are with your contact, your household members only, and you have that distance between anybody else, then it can work,” she said.
There are skeptics and critics regarding the course openings.
The golf industry says it has taken every safety measure it can.
“The management and board are watching daily the Dr. Bonnie Henry messages and we feel golf is the one sport that can lend itself to physical and social distancing,” said Scott Kolb, general manager of Victoria Golf Club.
“We basically worked with the National Golf Course Owners Association/PGA of B.C. best practices and looked to meet and exceed every point. It is safer than going through a grocery store and possibly safer than walking the neighbourhoods. We have 100 acres to spread 80 golfers out over.”