The rules of golf remain unchanged. But the rules golf courses must follow have changed dramatically in response to the coronavirus pandemic.
The pandemic and guidelines created by the Ohio Department of Health to try to contain it have made this season unlike anything that has come before it for golfers and golf courses.
There have always been yard markers. Now there are social distance markers.
And there are restrictions on who can ride together on carts. And limits on how many people can be in the clubhouse, how many minutes there should be between tee times, how many people can congregate, handshakes and many more things.
Golf courses were even shut down for a few days in March after being classified as non-essential before being reopened. Driving ranges were closed for a longer time before they were allowed to begin operating again.
Two long-established area championship tournaments, the Lima City Men’s Golf Championship and the Lima Area Women’s Match Play Tournament, have been canceled. Some outings to benefit various organizations and charities were canceled and many golf leagues got a late start.
When Floyd Young, who has owned the Bluffton Golf Club for 31 years, was asked if this was the most unusual and most challenging year of his career, he said, “By far.”
“It puts a curve into everything. It seems like you get used to the fastball and then all of a sudden you get a curve. But it’s just the way life is sometime,” he said.
With gyms and bowling alleys and other indoor activities shut down until last week, golf — because it was outdoors and played over a large area — was one of the few sports available to people who wanted some recreational activity.
Tom Holtsberry, the owner of Colonial Golfers Club, said the number of golfers there “has been pretty decent when the sun is shining.”
Colonial has 85 carts and had them all out on the course on a recent Saturday. “That seems to be the No. 1 issue for golf course operations, the number of carts we have,” Holtsberry said.
He said golfers have been very appreciative of the chance to get out and play.
“I know a couple of guys have said we’ve saved their marriages by getting them out of the house,” he said, with a laugh.
Young, whose family also owns and operates Hidden Creek Golf Course, said, “This time of year it depends a lot on the weather. It’s starting to get nicer and people are coming out a little more.
“We’ve had some issues. It slowed things down a little. The rules are starting to loosen up a little so I’m assuming it’s going to get better.”
“The (Allen County) Health Department was out here Wednesday and they told us a few other things, like we can sell food now. They’re just loosening things up a little bit. They said there should be another ruling out on June 1. I’m not sure what that’s going to be,” he said.
Mike Harmon, owner of Swing-Rite driving range, said, “We were closed for a while but we’re back open like normal now.
“We’ve started to sanitize our golf balls after somebody hits them we pick them up and wash them and clean everything. We sanitize our baskets and everything. At our range they’re spread out enough that they’re at least 10 feet apart when they’re hitting balls. So keeping them at six feet (for social distancing) is pretty simple,” he said.
Being shut down in late March and early April came at a bad time, Harmon said.
“Right at the end of March when they cut us off is really when we start picking up for the year. April, May and June are usually the busiest three months of the year,” he said.
Despite the disruption, Harmon says he’s optimistic about the 2020 season.
“I think it’s going to be a good year for golf. It seems to me there are quite a few people playing now,” he said.