The “new normal” at Columbia Golf Club in Minneapolis is pretty different from the old normal. The building and deck are closed, food service is limited, people are spread apart and nobody is allowed to touch anything.
But on a warm and sunny Saturday — the first day Minnesota golf courses were allowed to open after a statewide shutdown began in March — just walking around on the course felt pretty good.
“I think everybody’s just pumped to be out,” Mac Finnegan said as his group finished golfing and walked toward the parking lot around noon.
Minnesotans have been largely homebound since Gov. Tim Walz issued the stay-at-home order to limit the spread of COVID-19. Walz’s announcement that the statewide golf industry could reopen came just before 11 a.m. on Friday.
“By 11:03, the phones were ringing off the hook,” said Marc Rymer, the club’s general manager. Saturday’s entire tee sheet, from 7 a.m. to about 7 p.m., filled quickly.
Finnegan and others in his foursome, which included his brother Chase and cousin Joe, all roommates in St. Paul, and a friend from Minneapolis, were online setting up a tee time within a half-hour after the governor’s announcement.
“We golf quite a bit, and we definitely thought this was going to be postponed,” Chase Finnegan said.
“We expected to have to wait ’til at least May or June,” said Joe Finnegan. “We knew coming into it that we were pretty lucky to be coming in here to begin with.”
Golf course managers in Minneapolis and elsewhere around the country have been sharing best practices for balancing fun and safety, Rymer said. People won’t want to play if they don’t feel safe, he said, although some of the restrictions in place now may be gradually lifted as the season unfolds.
“It’s almost like a soft opening to see how things are going to work,” he said. “We didn’t know what today would be like. ... Tell you the truth, it’s going a lot smoother today than I thought.”
The course generally opens in mid-April anyway. The snow has receded after a mild winter, leaving the grass looking green and healthy. Even without the trees fully budded, “it’s already picturesque,” Rymer said.
But for now, golfers are told to arrive no more than 15 minutes before their tee time. Groups waiting to play must stand in circles, marked in chalk on the grass, that allow friends to spread out and talk while keeping their distance from others. People can’t use carts, scorecards, ball washers or sand-trap rakes. They can’t buy items at the pro shop. A limited menu of food and beverages is available for curbside delivery, but customers can’t use a cooler to carry it or sit down to consume it. On the course, inserts into the holes kept balls from going all the way in to keep hands from touching the edges of the cups.
“It’s kind of bare-bones golf, but it’s the new normal for the next six or eight or 12 weeks,” Rymer said.
The course generally hosts about 45 weddings a year; now none are being booked at least through May. A typical Saturday might find the course swarming with golfers and wedding guests, couples being photographed by the fountain. Instead it’s eerily quiet, Rymer said, with the building empty.
“Are things going to relax in September? Maybe, but ...” he trailed off.
Even now, though, golf courses offer recreation in the fresh air, with more space to spread out than many park trails. It’s a prospect appealing enough to attract even less-than-avid golfers.
“We barely golf at all,” said Chris Forsberg of Minneapolis, as he and Kari Coughlin waited to play.
Normally they don’t have time to play golf. But lately the two have been cooped up, working at home, exercising to aerobic videos, trying to stay healthy.
“Other than seeing my parents, we haven’t been around anybody for the last month,” Forsberg said. “So having an excuse to be outside is exciting.”