Golf cour­ses scram­ble to open on re­duced ba­sis

Crews scram­ble to put safety pro­to­cols in place af­ter Ken­ney gives the go-ahead

Calgary Herald - - FRONT PAGE - WES GILBERTSON wgilbert­ Twit­­gilbert­son

Dave and Car­ley Whitell pur­chased a golf course over the win­ter.

On Satur­day, af­ter an ex­tended blast of frigid weather and then a fur­ther de­lay due the COVID-19 clo­sures, the proud new own­ers of Muir­field Lakes GC will fi­nally be wel­com­ing the pin-seek­ing pub­lic to what they be­lieve is a hid­den gem.

“Oh, I’ll be in tears,” Dave said. “I was al­ready in tears (on Thurs­day) night, just to know we can open.”

Golf course op­er­a­tors across the province were scram­bling af­ter Thurs­day’s an­nounce­ment from Premier Ja­son Ken­ney that Al­ber­tans can hit the links as soon as this week­end. It won’t quite be busi­ness as usual, with an or­der that pro shops and club­houses must re­main closed.

Muir­field Lakes, lo­cated less than a half-hour’s drive east of Cal­gary’s city lim­its in Lyalta, is among the cour­ses ready to go Satur­day.

Oth­ers needed more time to pre­pare.

As pointed out by Tim Watt, the head pro­fes­sional and gen­eral man­ager at D’arcy Ranch in Oko­toks, it’s not as sim­ple as launch­ing the on­line tee sheet and putting out the flags.

Open­ing day at D’arcy Ranch will be Mon­day.

“It’s get­ting staff, and get­ting them trained,” Watt said, ex­plain­ing that they have been run­ning a small crew and will now need even more em­ploy­ees than usual. “You’re go­ing to need to have a greeter. You’re go­ing to need some­one on the first tee. You’re go­ing to need a bath­room at­ten­dant. You’re go­ing to need some­body clean­ing the carts …

“We needed those two days (un­til Mon­day) just to make sure we are abid­ing by ev­ery­thing. Be­cause the last thing we want is some­body to get sick.”

Early Fri­day evening, the province pro­vided a list pre­cau­tion­ary guide­lines for golf cour­ses — all things that an in­dus­try coali­tion had sug­gested as they pushed for the op­por­tu­nity to open.

All bunker rakes, ball wash­ers and other po­ten­tial touch points will be re­moved, while the pin must re­main in and benches will be blocked off. Power carts will be sin­gle-rider, un­less both live in the same house­hold, and must be cleaned and dis­in­fected af­ter ev­ery use.

With pro shops closed, cour­ses will im­ple­ment the park-and­play model, tak­ing ei­ther on­line pay­ment or us­ing tap tech­nol­ogy. Golfers should ar­rive no more than 15 min­utes be­fore their tee time and leave im­me­di­ately af­ter, and cour­ses are en­cour­aged to have spe­cial pro­to­cols in place to en­sure proper phys­i­cal dis­tanc­ing in case of a lightning de­lay.

There will be an em­pha­sis, just like in any other set­ting, on main­tain­ing a min­i­mum of six feet of space through­out the round.

Week­end tee times were a hot com­mod­ity on Fri­day, with sev­eral cour­ses sell­ing out.

“We ex­pect to see a lot of happy golfers,” said Colin Pres­ley, the head pro at El­bow Springs, a 27-hole hang­out that will open Satur­day. “Peo­ple are so ex­cited to get out of the house and go en­joy the golf course. They’re go­ing to see a lot of pro­to­cols in place that we’ve been work­ing on for quite a while, so they should be very com­fort­able ar­riv­ing. There will be lots of in­struc­tion, and they’ll get out there and en­joy their game and then go home.

“Just re­spect the rules, be­cause this is a priv­i­lege at this point, and we’re so happy to have it.”

Dave Whitell has been in the golf biz for four decades, most of that as the su­per­in­ten­dent at Hamp­tons, but there have been some new items on his to-do list this spring.

Be­tween fix­ing ir­ri­ga­tion leaks and mow­ing greens, he was bar­ri­cad­ing ev­ery se­cond park­ing spot at Muir­field Lakes to en­sure there is plenty of space be­tween all ar­riv­ing golfers as they un­load their clubs and switch to their soft spikes.

He’s also cre­ated a spe­cial lever-like con­trap­tion so play­ers can re­move their ball from the cup with­out touch­ing the pin.

“We’re ex­cited. The golf course is awe­some. The greens are spec­tac­u­lar,” Whitell said. “We’re ready. I think it’s a mat­ter of just mak­ing sure that peo­ple so­cial dis­tance and prove that golf can be played safely.

“We’re go­ing to greet ev­ery car as they come in and just ex­plain (the ex­pec­ta­tions). I’ve had calls from other golf cour­ses, just say­ing, ‘You’re open­ing first, so you have to make sure that you do this right.’ We’re go­ing to have greeters who are meet­ing peo­ple and telling them that — ‘We have to do this right. Be­cause we don’t want to screw this up for ev­ery­one else.’”

That pres­sure isn’t just com­ing from the golf com­mu­nity.

“We’re some of the first non-es­sen­tial busi­nesses to open, and we want to do it right,” Watt said. “We want to lead the way for all busi­nesses.”

CHIP SHOTS: Ac­cord­ing to Mayor Na­heed Nen­shi, there has not yet been a de­ci­sion on if or when Cal­gary’s city-owned cour­ses will open.

At Muir­field Lakes Golf Club, a hid­den gem sit­u­ated 30 min­utes east of the city in Lyalta, is among the cour­ses that plan to open on the week­end as Al­berta be­gins lifting the lock­down.

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