Back on the greens in the time of Covid-19
Golf season opens in Quebec
Golfers across the province rejoiced last week, as golf courses finally opened to the public, after more than two months without organized sports because of the ongoing pandemic. On May 20, the Royal Ottawa Golf Club held their first tee time of the season at 8:30 am, under beautiful sunny skies. The club’s General Manager Joyel Singfield explained that the club usually operates on around 75 per cent course-occupancy. But with so many golfers itching to get back on the course for so long, she said the participation rate was instantly higher than usual. “Everybody’s had two months inside and it’s been a beautiful couple of days,” she said.
On May 13, the Quebec Government announced the resumption of non-contact sports activities - including golf – with a list of safety regulations against COVID-19. In compliance with the provincial department of public health, Golf Quebec provided a 24-page document for all golf course owners, managers and professionals, outlining the proper protocol for reopening courses. Featuring a reference guide with safety measures and standards to be adhered to, the purpose of the protocol is to make golf’s resumption as safe as possible for everyone involved. It states that if the situation changes, measures in the protocol may be modified, as the guide would be updated periodically.
The safety guidelines include social distancing at all times, arriving no more than 30 minutes before tee time, and a higher frequency of cleaning and sanitizing of spaces. Golfers are asked to leave right after their rounds and to avoid any socializing opportunities. They cannot store their bags at the course. Clubhouses, main buildings and restaurants will remain closed for the time being, except for bathrooms, but with no locker room or shower access. Golf carts can still be used, only by one person at a time unless they live in the same household, and the driver must be the same for an entire round. Carts need cleaning before and after each time they’re used.
Greens must feature mechanisms that can allow golfers to pick up their ball from the hole without using their hands, replacing flag poles. Royal Ottawa Golf Club members normally could have stored their bags, changed clothes in the locker room and enjoyed a few drinks after their round, making for an enjoyable social experience. Despite those aspects being removed from the game, Singfield said golfers seem to have adjusted to the new norms quite smoothly.
“People are just so happy to be out,” she said. “If there’s a sport that’s safe, this is one that we can really meet all the requirements of social distancing and all that and keep people safe and we feel pretty comfortable that’s going to happen.”
“It’s not quite normal here … when you’re walking around with masks and have sanitizer,” she added. “But at least we’re moving again.”
With all tee times set up by appointment, Singfield said the club would be accessible to members only for the time being, with no visitors or walk-ons allowed on the course. She said all employees are to wear protective masks and gloves and even face shields if needed.
Singfield said the club expects to open its driving range in the coming days, with more distance in between each stall. “We’ll have a 12-foot distance between every person on the range,” she said. “We’re usually at about eight or nine feet. So, it may just be reducing one or two bays.”
For the Gatineau Golf & Country Club, business has also been extremely busy ever since reopening, according to its Manager Lewis Lehman. With their first tee time of the season at 7 am, Lehman said the club was certainly expecting golfers to come out in droves as soon as they had the chance. “When the government says you can go out, you can get some exercise … people line up,” Lehman told the Bulletin.
Remarking that the first day was very smooth, Lehman noted that golfers have been very respectful of the new safety regulations thus far. “We had no problems at all,” Lehman said. “People were so happy just to be there.”
The club has switched from eight-minute tee times to ten-minute tee times, causing a 25 per cent drop in overall tee times. Lehman said the club is implementing an online pay system to further prevent social contact between golfers and employees.
For the Vieux-Moulins Golf Club, activities reopened on the same day with extra staff on hand to make sure people respected recommended safety measures. According to the club’s Manager Katharine Vollet, golfers were overjoyed to get back on the course despite all the new rules, and following them has been no issue. “It was wonderful,” Vollet said. “People were just so excited to get out and go golfing. Overall, no one minds doing it because it’s nice just to finally get open,” Vollet said.
The club has limited the number of customers in its pro-shop to two at a time and has removed its public washrooms from the course. They have also installed plexiglass panels for pro-shop attendants who must wear masks and regularly disinfect equipment.
Typically, the club would open between the final weeks of April and the beginning of May, depending on the weather. With around 20 unexpected days off to start the season, Vollet said the club lost around $100,000 in potential earnings, adding that they still had to pay groundskeeping expenses. “It’s nice to have that revenue finally coming in,” Vollet said.
Despite that, Vollet said she’s confident that, with so many sporting and socialization avenues still on hold because of COVID-19, it’s going to be a very successful season for the golf industry. “I think we’re really going to see a lot of new golfers coming out this season,” Vollet said. “We hope.”