BOB WEST ON GOLF — Golf getting thumbs up in numerous locations

Published 12:01 am Wednesday, April 8, 2020

(Editor’s note: On Tuesday, April 7, at 4:15 p.m., Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick signed an addendum to his latest emergency order, closing all golf courses, driving ranges and golf training centers. This column was prepared and edited before the addendum was signed. The News had an earlier-than-usual press deadline Tuesday.)

Golf in the days of COVID-19 concerns looks different, feels different and is being played somewhat different. But, to the surprise of some, it continues to be enjoyed, and in larger numbers than you might think.

A survey of 1,000 facilities taken from March 25-27 by the National Golf Foundation revealed that 74 percent of in-season courses remain open.

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Broken down, 54 percent of muni layouts, 78 percent of public daily fee courses and 77 percent of private clubs still had golf balls flying around when the survey was taken.

The margin of error on the survey was plus or minus three percent. And there is a footnote that in a high percentage of open facilities, it is pretty much golf only. When there was food service, it was very limited.

A survey eye-opener was that in Westchester County, New York, a short drive from under-siege New York City, six county-operated courses were still open as of last weekend.

Much closer to Southeast Texas, The National in Westlake, Louisiana, continues to take tee times amid that state’s high-profile woes.

The rationale from those in power seems to be that with course operators taking proper precautions, and golfers cognizant of observing social distancing and other necessary protocols, a day on the links is relatively safe — probably safer than going to the grocery store or pharmacy.

Aquila Golf CEO George Brown, who operates Babe Zaharias for the City of Port Arthur, has insisted his staff go the extra mile in trying to insure a safe atmosphere for customers and workers. Things were a bit wobbly as changes were implemented, but Zaharias has a clear commitment to getting it right.

“As government agencies decide what to do to keep people safe, Babe Zaharias Golf Course will adhere to those policies,” Brown said Monday. “The health and safety of our employees and golfers is of the utmost importance to us. Equally important is that our golfers respect whatever our city, county or state guidelines are.”

Among Zaharias’ list of precautions are limiting golf carts to one rider, removing all bunker rakes, water coolers and ball washers, and adding noodle foam to the bottom of the flag sticks so golfers don’t have to reach down into the cup. The flag sticks are not to be touched.

Other precautions include sanitizing golf carts as they are put out and again when they are returned, with special attention to the steering wheel, handles, cart keys and seats. Also, no more than 10 people are allowed in the golf shop, with tape indicating six-foot spacing.

All surfaces in the clubhouse and restrooms are cleaned hourly, as are the coolers in the golf shop. And, in a somewhat costly move to management, the driving range has been closed.

“We are not cutting any corners,” Brown said. “Strictly following all the guidelines, including social distancing, can make golf a safe activity. It’s a great outlet for people to get some normalcy in their life during these stressful times.”

It should be noted that a couple of other area courses checked on for this column — Henry Homberg Municipal in Beaumont and Bayou Din Golf Club in LaBelle — are following much the same safety policies as those in place at Zaharias.

Both clubs, for instance, are limiting carts to one rider. Homberg, instead of using noodles to keep the ball from falling into the cup, employs PVC pipe. In one break from Zaharias and Homberg, Bayou Din has kept its range open.

“We are doing all we can to keep it safe,” said Bayou Din’s John Jeffery. “Our range is never crowded and there is plenty of spacing. We want to give our golfers the best possible experience.

“After all the rounds we’ve lost the last three years with weather, we need to be able to stay open.”

Jeffery did say he’d picked up additional play with golfers coming over from Anahuac’s Chambers County Golf Club, which is closed. He was also getting heavy play from Louisiana but sees that drying up with the mandate in place about crossing the border into Texas.

Bottom line, then, on golf in the age of coronavirus issues is that the game can continue to be played if golfers simply adhere to the requirements set out for them. It’s not that big a deal to make the adjustments.

Strictly obeying the new rules certainly beats the alternative.