While many are forced to stay home to avoid the threats created by COVID-19, golfers stay on the course to seek fresh air and their sanity.
Competition and comradery have been the perfect remedy for residents who’ve become stir crazy by restrictions and isolation created by the coronavirus.
Courses have adjusted their business models to accommodate Gov. Ron DeSantis’ state of emergency, but it’s done little to diminish the need to be around golf buddies – and far from the news of the day.
More than 44% of golf courses are still open, according to the National Golf Foundation, including all of the courses in St. Johns County.
The courses at TPC Sawgrass are open for play. The club allows only one golfer for each cart. It also requires flagsticks left in the cup, nestled in the middle of a section of a foam rubber swimming noodle to keep players from reaching into the hole.
Other suggestions include not picking up another player’s club on the green, refraining from the customary handshake after the round and washing hands is encouraged at every opportunity.
Other courses like the Marsh Landing Country Club in Palm Valley are following the same precautions, according to Collin Manning, who’s plays two or three rounds a week.
“They disinfect all the carts, all food is to go, no one sits in the club house and of course, we maintain distance, which is fairly easy to do here,” Manning said. “You’re not reaching your hand in the cup for the ball. You don't take the flag or pin out anymore, either.”
But with increased play comes a concern of too many golfers.
“It was much less crowded prior to the pandemic,” said Joey Ramsey, who’s played at multiple courses in the area, like Blue Sky Golf Club and Queen’s Harbour Yacht and Country Club in Jacksonville and Amelia Island Plantation, prior to its temporary shutdown.
“It’s just too crowded [during the pandemic], so the pace of play is a lot slower than normal,” he said.
Some still question whether it’s smart to keep courses open, but others believe it’s not only safe, but good medicine.
Dr. Catherine Troisi, an infectious disease epidemiologist at the University of Texas Health Science Center, told golf.com when it comes to activities during the pandemic, “golf as it’s normally played – outdoors, with natural social-distancing built in – would be fairly safe.”
While the business of golf continues to flourish, other services at local courses are struggling. Dining rooms, snack bars and lounges are limited to deliveries and take-home orders. To offset that, many courses have ramped up their on-course beverage cart service.
According to Taylor Fuller, World Golf Village’s marketing manager, the WGV is taking extra precautions to remain open, provide tee times and comfort during the outbreak.
“We’re really just trying to keep everyone safe and healthy,” Fuller said.
International golfers often stay in the St. Augustine resort, Fuller said, especially during March for THE PLAYERS Championship [which was canceled after one round by the outbreak.
“It’s a great feeling, knowing our staff wants to be there for the people,” Fuller said. “We’re keeping the course as safe as we possibly can and are happy to give people some sense of comfort.”
But regardless of the challenges, the passion for golf has never been more alive.
“It’s definitely great to still be able to play,” Manning said about golfing during the age of COVID-19. “You can forget about everything going on, you're out in open space, playing a game you're used to playing. There's a little bit of normalcy. It’s a little different with the regulations, but pretty much, it helps feel like it's just a normal day.”