One of the small prices to pay when you play Covid-19 golf in Montgomery County, MD is that golf courses removed rakes from their bunkers. The expectation was that you smooth the footprints with your foot or a club. We now know that the virus is not transmitted on inanimate objects like rakes, golf holes, and flag sticks, but the regulations were implemented out of an abundance of caution. Well, I chuckled last weekend as I sat in my cart next to the 5th tee, removed my left shoe, and dumped a small load of sand that I picked up from smoothing bunkers on holes 2, 3, and 4.
Fast forward to yesterday where I played nine holes at my local muni after work. Bam! No masks in the clubhouse. No pool noodles in the holes. Rakes in the bunkers. Imagine being confronted with all this luxury. We pulled flag sticks, smoothed our footprints, and shook hands with our playing partners. It was like watching the pros on TV and was just awesome.
I realize the pandemic is not over, especially in countries outside the United States. The status of the Olympics in Japan is in doubt and many of the colleagues I work with in India, on a daily basis, have been severely affected. Thanks to the vaccines, we are starting to reopen and my little sojourn into golf course normalcy was a pleasant surprise.
When the average feels like luxury. Hope you are getting back to normal wherever you are.
Is it time to relax COVID-19 restrictions on the golf course? Most definitely. We have learned that the disease primarily spreads through sustained physical contact with an infected person and not through contact with hard surfaces. Many golf courses have instituted guidelines designed to protect players against contacting the disease from objects we touch. These are over-protective and can be recinded. Since the game is played outside, social distancing is an easy way to protect players from real transmission and keep the sport one of the safest activities around. Let’s review what restrictions should be maintained and what we can dispense with.
Chances of contacting the virus through the handling of bunker rakes and flagsticks are quite remote and can be rescinded. Most courses have also implemented modifications to the hole to prevent the ball from falling to the bottom. These usually consist of a restraint that allows the ball to rest just below the surface. Either way, the player still needs to retrieve their ball from within the circumference of the cup and the virus isn’t living in golf holes. Let’s resume smoothing footprints in sand traps and putting into regular cups.
Most courses have restrictions on riding in carts. You are prevented from riding with individuals other than those you have been sheltering with. It makes sense to maintain these protections. Riding side-by-side for four hours with someone who may be infected is asking for trouble. A side benefit of maintaining current cart policies: I think a foursome with four carts can play faster than the same group with two carts because some aspects of joint passenger cart etiquette don’t apply when everyone drives to their own ball. At least that’s been my observation. Issues with rationing and cart shortages are being managed well by most courses.
This one is a big concern. As we hit the hot summer months, removal of cold drinking water from everywhere on the course is not a good idea. In a round last week I was walking, and it was hot and humid. My cold Gatoraid was finished by the 9th hole and I was left with two additional bottles of drinking water. By the 12th hole it felt like I was drinking hot tea. The only benefit was that it was wet. I have a vested interest because of an unpleasant heat exhaustion episode I suffered through a few years back. There was no cold drinking water on a course I was playing in Myrtle Beach, and I had to quit after seven holes after falling quite ill. I think it’s fine to bring back the coolers and keep them filled. Maybe store a dispenser of Clorox wipes next to the paper cups for those concerned.
I know there is a concerning uptick in the infection rate in many of the southern United States. It may not seem like an opportune time to reduce COVID protections, but this outbreak is being observed because of unwise behavior in bars and gathering spots, not on golf courses. Golf is one of the safest social distancing outdoor activities you can play. It’s time to return to a sense of normalcy.
Today was the first day back from Covid hiatus and I am beaming with satisfaction. It did not hurt that it was 85 degrees and sunny and a perfect day for playing hooky from work. I have been practicing weekly during the pandemic and even though it has been two months between actual rounds, it was really my 10th round of the year when you factor in my five pre-Covid rounds and five days of February golf in Myrtle Beach. All things considered; my game was sharp. I drove it well, hit some solid short irons and carded a 6-over 77.
Courses in Maryland have been open over a week and are widely divergent in how each are handling their response to the emergency. I am fortunate because my club, Blue Mash, is focused on providing a golf experience as close to normal as possible. First, the golf course and all practice facilities were in excellent shape. The crew had obviously taken the down time and spent it wisely. Greens were running fast and true, bunkers were nicely edged, and the sand was smooth (but without rakes), and all sources of shared water were removed from the course. Most excellent was the handling of the pins. They set the traditional flag stick holders upside down in the cups which allowed us to sink putts and have the ball just rest slightly below the grass for easy retrieval. I was happy they didn’t deploy a system that would leave some ambiguity as to whether the ball was holed. We played one player per cart, but you could double up with a family member or someone from the same household. Either way, there were no openings on the tee sheet until 5:30 p.m. and when we completed at 2 p.m. they had run out of carts. Finally, it was nice that the outside portion of the grill was open, where golfers could congregate and socially distance comfortably for some food and drink after their rounds.
There were only two minor issues. I detected a smell on the driving range from a recent fertilization that I would not want to be out in all day, but it was fine for a 30-minute warm up. Second, was the sensitivity of the cart’s newly installed GPS units. On several occasions, we were riding the rough of the hole being played and got audible warning beeps that our carts were out of position. I explained to the shop staff and they said they would make an adjustment.
Blue Mash was packed for a Friday and that’s understandable given how cooped up people were feeling. It was awesome to get out and play real golf again; the season has officially re-started. 😊
What’s the best way to get cranked up after COVID restrictions are lifted? I have a few ideas to get you started. First, remember there are many anxious and frustrated players ready to tear out of quarantine just like you. Don’t be one of them. Take it slow and deliberate. Last weekend I mistakenly ventured out to my Virginia home away from home on a balmy 72-degree morning. Oops!
Tip one, get there an hour earlier than you think you should. I didn’t and arrived at 10:30 a.m. and got the last hitting station on the driving range. The course, driving range, and practice green were packed like Father’s Day. While social distancing from other players, my range experience still provided ample opportunities to deal with real world distractions. Folks were very happy to be out playing and were walking, talking, and enjoying the sunshine to the point where it was hard to concentrate. Everyone kept showing up in the corner of my eye.
Tip two, find anything to simulate playing real golf. I played an imaginary 18 holes at my home course. I had a spare scorecard in my bag and wrote my score down after each hole. That helped to pace myself and forced me to concentrate. I didn’t hit the ball that great but salvaged an imaginary 6-over, 77 at Blue Mash. The rules are simple. Map out the hole you are playing in your mind before you start and adjust based on the quality of the tee shot. Hit good consecutive shots and give yourself a par. Blow one way right or left into trouble? Take a double and move on. Only shots landing right on the target are rewarded with a birdie. The only thing missing was some joker with a Bluetooth speaker blaring music off his golf cart.
Tip three, find an unoccupied practice green and play a game of up-and-down. It’s great to work on your chipping, pitching, and putting mechanics, but you need to add pressure to get ready for real golf. Up-and-down raises the ante. Play by yourself or with a friend. Throw a ball green side and don’t adjust the lie. Select your chipping or pitching club and play until your ball is holed. Each hole is a par-2. It’s good to put yourself under the heat, feel the burn if you miss a short putt, gain the satisfaction of hitting two great shots to save par. If I can play nine holes in 3-over or better, I’m in good shape. Find out what’s a good score for yourself and try and better it. Last weekend, I had too many players on the green and the distraction of the Blue Angels ripping overhead, so I just did some light putting. The weekend before was great, though. The weather was misty, the green was empty, and my short game got a great work out.
This week a cold snap is coming with temps forecasted in the mid-50s on Saturday. Perfect for some more COVID breakout work. And of course, Sunday is Mother’s Day. Don’t forget to honor the great women in your life.
Are you suffering from quarantine fatigue? COVID stay at home orders driving you nuts? Over-saturated from news, on-line meetings, Zoom sessions, and virtual happy hours? It’s truly difficult to stay motivated with no end in sight and I saw the worst of myself on Thursday of last week.
Fatigue had set in from staring at the same four walls and I was in a deep mental funk. On Tuesdays or Thursdays, I try to get to my school field after work and hit balls, but this week I was sulking and had no interest in working on my game. I am normally highly motivated to practice and my lethargic state was a serious concern. I imagine most people are suffering like this from time to time and I wanted to share my outlet.
The solve is to change your scenery. Get out of the house! It’s amazing how a different view will broaden your outlook and perk motivation. In Maryland, our stay-at-home directive is very restrictive. It encourages us to only leave the house for food, medical care, exercise, or other essential business. I decided my mental health was essential business and jumped in my car for a 1.5 hour drive with some hard rockin’ blues and a tour of closed golf courses in western Montgomery County. My drive took me by the muni in Poolesville, Bretton Woods Country Club, and past Congressional Country Club in Potomac. I was a little saddened driving by “Congo” and seeing the world renown facility shuttered and wondered if grounds crew were even being let in, but I snapped out of it by the time I got home.
Today, despite a little morning rain, I journeyed to Reston National and had a tremendous short game practice session. I forgot how peaceful and tranquil a wet day (but not too wet) at the golf course can be. I also can’t overlook the gratitude I am feeling for the Commonwealth and how they’ve managed to retain some of the civil liberties for their citizens that we in Maryland currently don’t enjoy. That I can swing on over in 20 minutes is a great thing, and I’m not sure what I’d do without you Reston.
Virginia, my brain thanks you and my golf game does as well.
How are you doing with your mental outlook? Play well!
I’m just as frustrated as you about the impact the virus is having on golf. But let’s heed the great advice from Stephen Covey in his 7-Habits of Highly Effective People. “Focus on what you can influence (your game preparation), and not your circle of concern (the virus).” Work on your game and do not get consumed with all the bad news circulating. Assuming your course is closed and you have tons of time on your hands, there’s a few Do’s and Don’ts to prepare for a great re-opening. Let’s take a look.
CREATE A PRACTICE STATION
Mine is in my back yard. I have a driving range mat, a bunch of golf balls, and three soccer cones. I set the mat on my patio and the cones at 5, 10, and 15 yards out.
I chip balls with different wedges at each cone trying to hit the cone on the fly. I use a high, medium, and low trajectory chip. This provides hours of fun and is great for rhythm and timing. Don’t have a driving range mat? Try an old piece of carpet. Take care though not to create divots in your back yard. It doesn’t show well for your July 4th barbeque. I also have one of those portable driving nets in the garage that I haven’t taken out for years but am ready if I need full swing contact. Lately, I’ve been hitting magnolia cones with a driver. Makes for a perfect bio-degradable projectile that doesn’t fall apart. Here’s an original how-to video:
I love what Jim at The Grateful Golfer has done in constructing a home hitting station in his garage. His build out was pre-Corona, but works great as well, check it out!
INVENT A GAME
Fortunately, I live close to a school field. Go find one. With school closed, it’s always empty and perfect for an afternoon of practice with a bag shag and a pitching wedge. For that matter, try all your wedges. Last time at mine, I invented a new game. The baseball diamond cages are roughly 150 yards apart. I start at home plate on one end and use one club and one ball, hitting full and partial shots until I can clank a ball off one of the cage poles at the other diamond. Each attempt is a par-4. Improve your lie within six inches in any direction on all shots. Great fun!
GET FIT- CROSS TRAIN
If you have a home gym or free weights, now is the time to start using them. There’s a plethora of workouts you can even do without weights. Here’s a great one from Sirkisfitness that is fast and protects your back. Before COVID, I had been lifting in the gym. Now I lift at home for an hour every Monday, Wednesday, and Friday after work. On the weekends, I’ve started playing tennis and taking non-playing walks on the golf course behind my home. The variety of activity is great for fitness and for keeping the mind clear.
In Maryland, our courses are closed for play and practice. In Virginia, they are open. Both states have stay at home directives, but exercise is permitted. I make the short trip to the Old Dominion and have conducted full-game practices under carefully controlled social distancing guidelines. After watching this video from Dr. David Price (New York physician on the front line of treating COVID patients), I have confidence I can protect myself in any social setting, including golf courses and practice facilities. The video is educational and empowering and is definitely worth a watch.
OBSESS WITH COVID COVERAGE
Protect yourself and others with reasonable precautions but don’t devolve into consuming the 24-hour COVID news cycle. Watching the daily death count is bad for your mental outlook and saps your energy. Focus on positive news, work your game fundamentals and fitness. You’ll be in great shape when courses are re-opened.
I’ve begun to see this with several friends who play and some that don’t. They are trying to social distance alone. The isolation is taking it’s toll mentally which is translating into physical difficulties. The mind and body are connected. We need social interaction even in this difficult time. If you can, get out and walk, talk to your neighbors and friends face-to-face while keeping your necessary distance. Have a dialog with front line workers like health care providers and grocery clerks. Tell them how much you appreciate them. I know we need to keep our distance but remember that full isolation can start to feel like solitary confinement. Don’t forget to call on friends and family who are isolating by themselves.
This is Masters week which signifies the traditional start of the golf season. One of my favorite activities is to play golf on Masters Sunday and plunk down for an afternoon of delight with my favorite major. Not happening this Spring. The Masters has been moved to November. No worries, because rather than concerning myself with the schedule, or if the participants are going to be affected by frost or falling leaves, or how closely the tournament will be played in proximity to football, I’ll focus on my game, my health, and my mental outlook. How about you? Hope you find these thoughts are helpful.
What is going on with all the disparate rules on how to manage golf courses during the emergency? Is golf an essential business? Is golf exercise? Is golf just entertainment?
In Maryland, our governor shut down golf courses on March 23 as non-essential businesses. If Lakewood Country Club (course behind my home) is a microcosm of the industry in our state, judging by the number of groups coming through after the order, people were ignoring it, even though they had to walk. Two days later, Virginia closed non-essential businesses but golf courses and driving ranges remained open. A week later, both states instituted ‘Stay At Home’ orders. Lakewood pulled all the flags out and players stopped coming through, but nothing changed in Virginia.
Today, I checked with friends in West Virginia (all courses open) and Arizona, where all courses have been deemed essential businesses and are open, along with beauty salons and barber shops! Go figure.
Today I walked 18 holes on the closed Lakewood course (without clubs) and nary ran into a sole. Got some great exercise in. Then I ventured across the river to Reston National in Virginia and practiced for two hours. Here’s a video and picture of the parking lot at Reston.
I think if you lived in the DC area, you were either home or playing golf at Reston National. Finally, I saw this article about golfing in Brampton, Ontario. Apparently, it’s illegal because of the virus and could cost you a big time fine. Unbelievable that it’s come to this.
I very much enjoy getting out to play and practice while socially distancing. Helps me to keep my sanity. Where do you stand on golf as an essential business? Is it?
As I monitor events from the GVOHQ (Golf Virus Organization Headquarters) in the 3rd floor bedroom/office of my home overlooking the golf course at Lakewood Country Club) I am deeply pondering the thought: Can I crush this virus or is it crushing me? I’m an IT jockey and am trying to concentrate for work, and of course am very thankful to be employed, but am stuck in the isolating world of work from home (WFH). Yesterday was day seven in our business continuity plan, and I was starting to get antsy on Thursday. I had the same feeling back in the blizzard of 2010 when I worked six straight from the house. You know, you get cooped up, gotta get some outside air and are tired of looking at the inside walls. But this is different. Every TV channel you turn to provides ample anxiety building virus coverage – “Practice safe this, don’t go here, don’t go there, close businesses, and socially distance yourself from everyone.” I am one of those guys who distrusts the media and understands they thrive on this stuff and will run it as long as people consume. “If it bleeds it leads, ” so why am I consuming? Remember how long the news cycle lasted for OJ and Malaysia Air Flight 370? They just couldn’t let it go and this is 50 times worse, plus there are no sports to distract us.
From a human physiology and psychological aspect, isolation can be damaging. Taken to the extreme, it can be viewed as cruel and unusual punishment (solitary confinement). The mental and physical damage of isolation is real and everyone has different limits. We as humans isolate ourselves more and more every day with our text messaging, internet connectivity, and on-line social networks. Let’s be clear, connecting over devices may feel like connecting but it’s not the same as connecting face to face. We are social beings and need direct interaction with our fellow man. Not saying it cannot be done in this climate, just that I am struggling with it. What to do?
Thursday, I had enough, and after work, went out to my home club for some practice. Wow how refreshing! The parking lot was ¾ full as was the range and there was a steady stream of groups going out to play. In short, it seemed like business as usual, if you ignored the closed snack bar and lack of rakes in the bunkers. I asked the guy behind the desk how the tee sheet looked, with all this virus stuff, and he replied in one word, “packed.” I have to admit, that the glimpse of normalcy filled me with optimism and I thoroughly enjoyed the couple hours spent working on my game.
My concern: Every day restrictions on the area courses are getting tighter. Our local group of nine municipal courses had removed bunker rakes, coolers, and closed food service – all good. Yesterday, they notified that no carts would be used for the foreseeable future – still okay with that. They also notified that cups would be set to prevent balls from going in the hole (raised) and that flagsticks could not be removed. I viewed this as excessive and sent them a note detailing my concerns. Another course on the eastern shore (Baywood Greens) had sent an email detailing their restrictions which included removing flags. I sent them an email complaining that without flags, we wouldn’t be playing golf, and they relented, but are playing with raised holes. Where to draw the line? You need to let common sense take over. Unless the state shuts all the courses down, you still gotta let people play golf at their own discretion and keep the game recognizable.
I realize the situation is fluid and is only getting worse. If they close all our courses and mandate a shut in strategy with marshal law (hopefully it doesn’t come to that), my strategy is to walk to the adjacent school field, and pound pitching wedges at my bag shag. I’m sure we’ll be allowed outside for trips to the grocery store, to walk the dog, and exercise.
In the meantime, try and cut our leaders some slack and know that they’re trying to balance the tough dichotomy of protecting the public health and maintaining our economic well-being. We’re all going through this for the first time, including our leaders, and the blame first mentality helps nobody.
Stay well, and play well!
Conversation about course reviews, travel, instruction,and opinion. Please join in!