At a time when most sports have been put on hiatus by the COVID-19 outbreak, golf courses in Georgia have been allowed to remain open. Even still, the coronavirus has had an inconsistent impact on the local courses in Bartow County.
Cartersville Country Club has seen an increase in golf rounds, although a sharp drop in tennis activity has also occurred there. Across town, Woodland Hills Golf Club has experienced a decline in numbers directly related to COVID prevention measures. Meanwhile, Fazio Course at Barnsley Resort near Adairsville has been closed for nearly three weeks but will reopen this Friday.
“I would say everybody is stir crazy and wanting to get outside,” CCC general manager Phillip Wright said. “I would say being out on a golf course is probably one of the safest places to be, and it’s also great exercise. That’s why the governor has allowed golf courses to remain open in the state of Georgia.
“We’ve had an increase in rounds and activity on the golf course.”
The same cannot be said for Wright’s counterpart on the tennis side of the country club. Head tennis professional Chris King said his number of participants have “decreased tremendously” due to the coronavirus.
“It’s pretty much been the same small group of people that have been coming out,” he said. “You see basically the same 8-12 people are the only ones who are using the tennis courts out here.”
Representatives from the country club, Woodland Hills and Barnsley all spoke about social distancing restrictions as outlined in Gov. Brian Kemp’s initial stay-at-home order, which allowed an exemption to golf courses, and sanitation measures in place at each of their individual courses in an attempt to maintain the health and safety of golfers and staff.
“We’ve got inserts in the cups on the golf course, so the ball doesn’t fall to the bottom of the hole,” Woodland Hills general manager Bryan Evans said. “They just barely roll into there, so you can just take your putter and lift it out. The restrooms on the golf course have been closed. I just didn’t feel like I could keep those cleaned and sanitized like I should. We brought in all the water fountains and water coolers. Bunker rakes have been brought in. We rake bunkers once a day. My staff will go out with their equipment that we keep in the maintenance building. They’ll rake bunkers, and it’s luck of the draw, really, whether you get a good lie or not in the bunker.
“Some guys are playing it ‘ground under repair’ and just taking it out of the bunker. Some are taking it out and dropping it in a good area. Folks are coming up with their own [golf] rules to play by during this time.”
Said Wright, “Basically, anything that requires touching has been removed. There are signs throughout the golf course and the driving range about playing smart and staying six feet apart, just reminding the golfers about that.”
The biggest adjustment course have had to make is in regards to their golf carts, with limits of one individual per cart. Sanitizing the carts between uses has been a major undertaking.
“We have a commercial sanitizer that we use that has an EPA registration label on it,” Evans said. “That’s labeled for HIV, for COVID, for hepatitis. The way the product is used is that you spray it on the golf cart, let it sit for 10 minutes and then wash the cart with soap and water. That’s done after every use.”
At Barnsley’s course, which will reopen Friday afternoon after temporarily closing on April 3, carts are not going to be used multiple times a day. Although, that policy (and all others, for that matter) could certainly change moving forward.
“We’re actually very excited that we’re expecting brand-new carts very soon, and that may allow us to modify that [policy] a bit,” Barnsley’s director of marketing Shelby Kolb said. “But right now, we just want to be conservative in our approach to offer this great pastime to our members and those players from outside the resort who might want to get out and connect with nature and enjoy the outdoors through golf.”
With only one person allowed per cart — aside from members of the same household, as Kolb noted — tee times subsequently have had to be adjusted.
Woodland Hills has nearly doubled its intervals between tee times from eight to 15 minutes. Wright said the country club has moved from eight-minute intervals to 12 minutes, but based on the wait time for a cart some individuals experienced Wednesday, that time might need to be extended.
At Woodland Hills, Evans is still seeing plenty of golfers come through the doors, which are propped open to keep people from having to touch the handles.
However, the club’s limited amount of golf carts is directly capping the number of golfers he can have on the course at a given time.
Even still, the demand isn’t great enough to justify renting more carts in the short term.
“It feels busy to us, but at the end of the day, we’re doing fewer numbers just because it’s one person per cart,” Evans said. “The reason it feels busy is I’ve got staff sanitizing. … It’s really time consuming.
“We have had quite a few calls. I have turned away a lot of people. We just don’t have the capacity to safely do any more than we’re doing.”
Both Evans and Wright mentioned overwhelmingly positive responses to any changes the golfers or courses have had to undergo during this unique situation.
“We’ve seen firsthand [in Bartow County] how severe this virus is,” Wright said. “We take it very seriously here. The staff is well educated in what needs to be done, how to go about doing it and making sure not only our staff stays safe but also our members.”
That being said, guidelines are being constantly updated, giving decision-makers more freedom but also added risk when it comes to loosening restrictions. For instance, Kemp announced restaurants can reopen for dine-in customers Monday.
“We’re closed on Mondays,” Wright said of the country club, “but we’re planning to open our restaurant on Tuesday with the modifications stated by the governor.”
Evans said he wasn’t sure about immediately returning to dine-in service but did note that take out meals remain available for purchase.
While the Fazio Course is set to reopen Friday, Kolb said the rest of the resort would remain closed until further notice.
It’s a fluid situation, though, involving weighing recommendations from local, state and federal levels of the government along with those laid out by the Georgia Hotel and Lodging Association and the American Hotel and Lodging Association. It’s also a business decision that’s currently impacted by an overall lack of travel by Americans.
“With all of their guidelines, we aren’t ready to make that announcement quite yet,” Kolb said of reopening the entire resort. “… We want to continue to make the best choices and decisions following our core values as a company, which is taking care of our employees and being there for our guests.”
Barnsley shut down everything except the golf course on March 22. The decision was made to close the course less than two weeks later. It might have reopened sooner, but those at Barnsley decided to have the annual aeration coincide with the current closure.
“We did make that decision — although we could have stayed open — just out of an abundance of caution related to the pandemic situation that everyone is facing right now,” Kolb said of the course’s closure. “… Even though golf was still allowed, we just felt like it was most prudent for our players and for our colleagues at that time to do that temporary closure initially.
"We decided, while we were closed, to take advantage of that timeframe to go ahead and do our annual aeration — instead of disrupting play for our members, our resort guests and other golfers later in the summer, when we typically do that.”
Overall, members (and frequent guests) of all the courses in Bartow seem thankful just to have local places to golf during a time when so many things are unavailable, particularly in the world of sports.
“The members are very appreciative of having the opportunity to even play here,” Wright said. “The members — and obviously, they can bring guests out with them, as well — are very appreciative and thankful that the governor has allowed us to be open. They know they do not want to jeopardize any of that, so they are adhering to everything he has said.”