Just in time for the last melting snow and a sunny weekend forecast, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz on Friday opened golf courses across the state starting Saturday morning and golfers rushed to get tee times.
Walz’s awaited decision during the coronavirus pandemic came just before 11 a.m. Friday, in an order intended to get isolated Minnesotans out of their homes and safely into the great outdoors while restarting the state’s golf industry.
By lunch hour’s end, Loggers Trail in Stillwater had booked 213 golfers in 43 minutes, teeing off from 8 a.m. to 3:36 p.m. Saturday. A groundskeeper at Edinburgh USA in Brooklyn Park prepped a fifth-hole bunker while the tee sheet both Saturday and Sunday filled from 8 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. with phone and internet bookings.
Is that the definition of “pent-up demand?”
“People want to play, I’m just happy it happened,” longtime Edinburgh pro Don Berry said. “We went from shelter-in-place to full-go mode in about 10 minutes. The phone has just been ringing off the hook. It’ll be a little bit of a problem with staffing because we just don’t have it. We’re winging it. But believe me, we’re just happy to be back.”
Oak Marsh golf course in Oakdale was among the state’s first courses to open six weeks ago. Walz’s executive order that shuttered bars, restaurants and other places of “public accommodation” March 17 also closed the course and its vital clubhouse business.
When asked Friday morning when his course could be ready, Oak Marsh General Manager/Director of Golf Steve Whillock said, “Tomorrow, this afternoon. We’re ready. I’ve got staff already lined up, ready to come in and help.”
Two hours later, Oak Marsh’s tee sheet was booked all day both Saturday and Sunday, even though Sunday’s weather calls for temperatures only in the high 40s.
Walz’s decision also included the reopening of bait shops, outdoor shooting ranges and marina services, among with many other outdoor pursuits. Order 20-38 begins 5 a.m. Saturday and came a day after Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers opened courses there beginning next Friday.
DNR guidelines for course managers and golfers: Stagger tee times and stay 6 feet away from others. Remove anything — rakes, ball washers, water coolers — someone might touch. Raise the cup sleeve so balls bounce away, eliminating the need to touch the cup or the flag. Share riding golf carts only with household members. Carpool to the course only with household members. Clean and sanitize carts after every round. Many courses also are taking tee times only by internet or by credit card in advance to limit interaction upon arrival.
Course openings will provide the state’s golf industry with some desperately needed financial relief and sense of normalcy in a spring when Minnesotans drove to Iowa to play, when some course owners applied early for Small Business Administration funds that were part of the $2 trillion government stimulus bill.
April 18 is maybe a week behind an opening date for most Minnesota courses most years. An early spring allowed several courses to open in early March and hope for one of their best seasons ever until executive orders and Walz’s stay-at-home edict closed courses across the state.
Those hurt the most so far are golf clubs and courses that depend on clubhouse food and beverage sales, banquets and outings, many of which have already been canceled all the way into fall. Some courses have tried to make some money by selling take-home food orders.
“Given the forecast this weekend, this is very welcome,” said Tom Ryan, Minnesota Golf Association chief operating officer.
Saturday’s forecast calls for sunny skies and a high of 62 degrees.
The National Golf Foundation reported Friday that 48% of U.S. courses are open for play, up from 44% last week.
Walz’s order Friday came with more than two weeks remaining before his stay-at-home extension expires May 4. It came two weeks after he allowed course workers to mow grass and maintain “critical turf” that includes greens, tee boxes and fairways.
“It’s important for us to stay active and enjoy the outdoors while preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Walz said in a statement. “This measure will allow Minnesotans to take advantage of more opportunities to get outside, while doing their part to keep their neighbors healthy.”
Walz also reminded Minnesotans to participate in outdoor activities near home because that helps prevent them from spreading the virus. Under his order, that outdoor recreation doesn’t include tournaments, team events and events that attract a crowd.
Eden Prairie golfer Paul Howard plays about 40 rounds a year and prefers to walk. He said he considers golf both exercise and mental relief in such difficult times.
“It’s good,” he said about Walz’s decision.“You want to keep people sane in this time.”
He also said he considers it safe, if precautions are followed.
“What am I going to do? Walk around the lake, where people are arm-in-arm,” said Howard, an employee-benefits broker. “It’s safer than a lot of things, even going to the grocery store.”
Whillock said it’s important golfers realize they aren’t returning to golf as it was before the pandemic. PGA of America Minnesota section President Mark Foley said, “It’s our responsibility to do the right things to play golf. If we want to be able to play, we must follow the rules.”
A golf pro from Nebraska — where courses have opened — advised Minnesota peers in a conference call this week about golfers there who still high-fived each other, rode two or three to a cart and congregated in the parking lot after their round.
“It’s hard to police,” Whillock said. “People need to understand how serious this is. All the golfers out there will have to be respectful to the guidelines and rules or the game will be taken away as fast it was put out there.”