What better sport to play than golf when social distancing?
It’s perfect. You don’t want to be within six feet of a golfer in their backswing, anyway. You might get hit. There are plenty of wide open spaces to walk or stand and chat at a safe distance — six feet, they say.
On a brilliantly sunny day Friday, Mint Valley Golf Course was abuzz with activity, its many patrons reveling in the gorgeous weather and the chance to actually “do” sports during this dearth of athletic activity.
“They’re excited that we’re still here. They love the fact that we’re still open,” Mint Valley golf manager, Jim Nickerson said. “They’re able to go outside.”
Part of the recent bump in business has to do with the weather, but also with the fact that the other public course, Three Rivers in Kelso, is open to members only, forcing walk-ups to head west into the ol’ mint farm.
While at Longview’s municipal course, though, there are new rules to follow, new regulations observe, and new precautionary measures to adhere to.
Like a cage on the driving range cart, the protocol is rooted in safety.
If a pairing drives separately to the course, they are asked to drive separate carts during their round. The sand rakes are off limits for now, as are the ball-washers to limit the spread of COVID-19. The pro shop, once a hive of golfers making merry before or after their rounds, is now an in-and-out venture, with Nickerson often keeping patrons outside entirely.
The staff sanitizes after each transaction and gives a once-over of the pro shop every 20 or 30 minutes.
The restaurant and bar are closed, too, for obvious reasons.
“I’m not really even seeing (customers) now,” Nickerson said. “That’s been really different.”
This is all new for both Mint Valley Golf Course and Nickerson, but especially the long-time users, who are used to doing things a certain way at the course.
To Nickerson’s pleasure there hasn’t been much, if any, pushback from customers about the new rules. Some might raise a thick eyebrow or two when hearing that they’d have to get their own cart, but mostly they just shrug their shoulders and agree to get on with their round.
What are they going to do, not golf?
“A lot of these guys, this is sacred ground,” Nickerson said. “This is their hangout spot, and to be telling them, ‘As soon as you’re done you gotta get outta here.’ It’s a hard thing for these guys, but they’ve adjusted really well.”
Nickerson is well aware that old habits can be hard to break. And new tricks can be even harder to learn.
“I’m actually impressed with a lot of the old-time guys here who gather for hours for coffee on a frost delay. They’re okay with it being locked down. The old guys that used to hang out in the pro shop with a beer afterwards, they’re okay with me saying, ‘You guys have to leave.’ I’m really impressed with them. They’ve made it was easier for us as staff.”
In a time of stress and uncertainty, the familiarity of golf provides a refuge, a place to remember the normalcy of simpler times. A time when a three-putt or a wayward drive were among the day’s biggest concerns.
If the golf course is empty, there are bigger problems at hand.
“With this thing going around, and if nobody was here I’d say we were in state lockdown,” Nickerson said. “If we get to that point, we’re gonna have to do something. We just keep trying to be innovative. We keep trying to come up with ways that people don’t have to touch things.”
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