The spring of 2020 has so far seen some great weather, but the COVID-19 shutdowns are affecting one of the ways Lebanon County residents get outside to enjoy the fresh air: Golf.
Along with many other county businesses, golf courses shut down in the third week of March. Over a month of closure went by before Governor Tom Wolf announced on April 27 that golf courses were permitted to reopen on May 1. Private campgrounds, marinas, and guided fishing trip businesses were also permitted to reopen on the same date.
The courses at Lebanon Country Club, Royal Oaks Golf Club, Pine Meadows Golf Complex, Fairview Golf Course, Iron Valley Golf Club, Blue Mountain Golf Course, and Lebanon Valley Golf Course have all reopened to allow players to get back out on the green and enjoy the good weather.
That doesn’t necessarily mean golf courses and clubs are set to have a great season. For most of these businesses, clubhouses and restaurants associated with the courses remain closed for in-person events and dining, and course employees have had to take changing state regulations into account to keep players safe.
So while the weather might be nice and the golf activity “spectacular,” said Lebanon Country Club’s PGA Golf Professional Christian Sheehan, it’s still a difficult season for courses and clubs due to restrictions on large gatherings of people.
Sheehan explained some of the changes in operation that the club has implemented and what the golf season is looking like moving forward.
“The difficulty is that our season success relies on our member activity, community events, corporate outings, banquets, weddings, and weekly functions with groups like the Lebanon Lions Club and the Rotary Club, which have now been cancelled, limited, moved, or still being worked on,” he wrote in an email exchange.
“We’re doing our best to keep in contact with our vendors, outing leaders, and membership during this time to salvage what we can and find hope in what we can accomplish in the future.”
Work changes for employees
Course and club employees have had to adapt to the work alterations brought on by the restrictions, with extra cleaning procedures in particular playing a major role.
“[Work] has changed dramatically. The biggest change is that you’re only allowed one person per golf cart,” said Andy Signor, PGA Golf Professional at Pine Meadows, in a phone interview with LebTown. “We’re asked to have less people on hand, per the governor’s orders, but to do what we need to do we actually need more people on hand.”
The one-person-per-cart regulation has resulted in small caravans of carts moving along course pathways. In its first implementation, the rule extended even to family members of the same household, though it has since been altered to allow multiple “occupants [who] share a residence” in a single cart.
The ambiguity of some of the regulations from the state and the federal Centers for Disease Control has drawn lots of questions from players and employees alike. “It’s a confusing message we’re getting from the state legislature and the government in general,” said Signor. “It’s very vague.”
The full regulations for golf courses in the “Red Phase” are shown below:
In counties designated as being in the Red Phase of Reopening, golf course operators may permit individuals access to the property so long as there are no gatherings of any kind and appropriate social distancing of six feet between individuals is strictly abided.
Golf carts may be utilized, but must be single occupant only, unless the occupants share a residence. No employees are allowed for purposes of facilitating play; however, operations such as landscape maintenance and other “services to building and dwellings” may continue as necessary to prevent deterioration of property condition. Restaurant activity is limited to take-out or delivery only and use of facilities for banquets or similar gatherings remains prohibited.Regulations on golf courses from the state government, last updated May 22 at the time of publication.
Golf courses are expected to have more operating flexibility now that Lebanon County has been officially moved to the “Yellow Phase,” a change that occurred as of Friday, May 29. In the yellow phase, in-person operations are allowed to resume so long as courses comply with the Wolf administration’s April 15 order requiring businesses to take certain measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19, such as insisting that customers wear masks. However, according to guidance by the Pennsylvania Golf Course Owners Association, course employees are still required to telework when possible and clubhouse and restaurant operations will remain limited, with dine-in service prohibited. Pro shops, however, should be able to resume retail operations.
The game itself is likely to remain changed for the weeks and months to come in small ways. Rules about hitting out of a bunker have been modified to avoid the use of rakes. The “smoothies” rule, as the Country Club dubs it, allows players to create a clean lie in a bunker so as to avoid the use of bunker maintenance rakes. Similar adjustments have been implemented on other courses.
The Country Club also invested in a ball-retrieval system that doesn’t require players to touch the flagstick when lifting their ball from a hole, as seen here. Other courses have gotten creative with the problem of retrieval — Iron Valley, for instance, has inserted small sections of pool noodles to make the hole shallower.
Glad to be on the green
Golf is in a unique position as far as sports under COVID-19 go, since it’s relatively safe to play with others with comparatively minor adjustments. The Washington Post noted recently that the individualistic nature of the sport has been a draw for people across the country looking to get some fresh air.
Governor Wolf had said in his statement on the reopening of courses that, “it is critical that we also focus on our physical and mental health during these extraordinary times … As the weather warms and daylight lengthens, enjoying time outdoors is an important way to manage stress.”
It’s something that the patrons currently out for rounds seem to appreciate.
“The members have really been grateful to be out and about,” Sheehan wrote. “[T]hey are overwhelmingly appreciative, and the club has provided a great respite for the families during these difficult times.”
“A lot of people that have come in are very excited to be able to come back and play,” said Signor of the visitors to Pine Meadows.
“The hardest part is that Lebanon Country Club is like a huge family, and just as we miss our moms and dads, we miss our friends,” Sheehan continued. “Many of the relationships between the members and staff are long and personal. It’s a close-knit club.”
“We’re taking it day by day,” said Signor. “The upcoming season is going to be difficult, because we don’t know what’s going to happen without it.”
Is there a story you think LebTown should report? Let our newsroom know using the form below.
Help us provide journalism Lebanon County needs.
If you are thankful for LebTown, consider joining as a member. Members get an inside look at our publishing schedule each week, plus invites to a members-only Facebook group and happy hours.
Learn more and join now here.
Subscribe to our newsletter for updates each weekday at 3 p.m.
An earlier version of this article erroneously stated that Andy Signor works for Royal Oaks Golf Club. Signor works at Pine Meadows Golf Complex. This error has been corrected.