Soon after Gov. Charlie Baker announced last Thursday that golf courses could open, with restrictions, Red Tail Golf Club and Shaker Hills Country Club were welcoming golfers back to their courses.
But both clubs instituted new policies to comply with the government guidelines described at www.massgolf.org/covid19. The two guiding principles behind the reopenings are “no touch point” and social distancing. The “no touch point” principle aims to prevent the transmission of COVID-19 by eliminating contact with surfaces that have been touched by staff or other players. The social distancing principle imposes rules meant to keep everyone on the course 6 feet apart.
Implementing a “no touch point” policy means that golf carts and rental equipment are not available, although both clubs intend to follow ADA (Americans with Disabilities Act) guidelines, which would allow the rental of carts to people with a documented disability. Shaker Hills General Manager Andy Jordan said this part of the reopening is an ongoing story. As of now, golfers must walk the course, pushing their own carts or carrying their own lightweight bags.
The policy also means that a flagstick must always remain in its hole. The cup in the hole is raised so the stroke is completed when the ball taps the rim. There are no ball washers, nor are there rakes in the bunkers to smooth out the sand. Paul Reilly, assistant golf pro at Shaker Hills, said that players should not be penalized because of the bumpy sand, so they are allowed to fetch the ball out of the bunker (sand trap) and return it to the grass by hand. But he observed that most of the golfers were not being sticklers to the rules of the game; they were mostly interested in getting back in shape and honing their skills at this early point in the season.
The social distancing principle establishes that tee times are spaced 15 minutes apart, eliminating groups of golfers bunching up behind slower players. No more than four players are permitted to a group and the players in the group must maintain a 6-foot distance from each other. Players must wait in their cars until 15 minutes before tee time and must leave the course after the game is finished. The practice areas are closed, as are the buildings, including restaurants, shops, and restrooms.
Chris Kasheta, manager at Red Tail Golf Club in Devens, said that on Sunday 75 golfers played in the windy conditions. Scheduling a tee time and payment is done online or the phone. The fees vary according to the day of the week and the time of day, and are displayed on the tee time schedule online.
At Shaker Hills Country Club, payment is made and tee times are also scheduled online or by phone, according to Reilly. The variable fees are displayed on the tee time schedule online. Balls and tees can be ordered from the pro shop by phone to be picked up in a bag on a table outside the shop.
He also said the club has “rangers” riding around the course checking on compliance with the social distancing rules. Chairs have been removed to discourage socializing.
Because Shaker Hills had been open for the season before the shutdown, Reilly said the greens were ready on Thursday at 3 p.m., and the course was immediately at or close to capacity that afternoon and on Friday. The weekend was a little slower due to Saturday’s windy and cold weather and Mother’s Day on Sunday. Even so, the club saw 103 golfers on Sunday. Both golf facilities are beautifully groomed and the managers conveyed an attitude that the restrictions represent a good model for reopenings. Jordan advised golfers to consult the web site for up-to-date information.
One golf club that will not be reopening is the International Golf Club & Resort in Bolton. According to a May 12 press release issued by public relations firm O’Neill and Associates of Boston, the golf club and resort has filed for Chapter 11 bankruptcy and is seeking a buyer for the golf courses and facilities. All claims from vendors, event clients, and golf members will be resolved in the U.S. Bankruptcy Court for the District of Massachusetts of Worcester.