That itch is starting to come back, day by day. May is fast approaching. Golf in Canada typically ramps up around the middle of that month, toward the long holiday weekend. Buds are popping on trees now. The weather is finally warming up. I even heard Jim Nantz’s calming voice on TSN the other day, albeit in the background, announcing the Masters from a year ago (Tiger’s win).
Those golf clubs, leaning up against the back corner wall of the family room, have been an ongoing reminder of the season to come. That voice grows louder if you were one of the aficionados who updated your club set with a new driver, or maybe a shiny set of new irons, during the off-season.
Normally this is the time when golf clubs around Toronto start to put the final touches on their preparation, preservation and maintenance work for another season. Trees are trimmed, final patches of ice are removed from the greens, the seeding and fertilization programs get going, bridges are repaired. Turf teams are usually in full motion, making sure course conditions are as close to pristine as possible for both the championship and average player.
But this off-season has been like no other. A worldwide pandemic has tossed the start of a new season up into the air, like blades of grass when you’re checking the wind direction, standing on a tee box. No one seems to know if and when the season will start, and if it does, what the new rules will be. The government of Ontario has mandated the closure of all non-essential workplaces.
One thing is certain – no one, at this point in the pandemic, is interested in breaking safety protocols, including social distancing, putting anyone at further risk. One truth that has shone through is a feeling that everyone is in this together. We are bound together in one common cause – to eradicate this thing as soon as we can.
Everyone also agrees though that golf offers a mental balm (most times), with so many health benefits, and there’s no better time than now for a dose of that. So here we are.
The region’s top luxury golf clubs all have their COVID-19 policies in place. Everyone is taking direction from governments and public health agencies. But then you read stories like this one, detailing how some golf clubs in British Columbia are responsibly ramping up golf season as the weather warms up there, ahead of us.
You wonder if that’s possible here, as long as safety protocols are in place. Some golf courses in the U.S. are opening, but policies vary from state to state. There is a petition floating around trying to get 5,000 signatures to help push Ontario Premier Doug Ford to make golf essential – golf courses can easily take payments online or over the phone, tee-offs can be managed remotely, beverage services, pro shops and restaurants would stay closed, the people behind the petition say. Golf is safe and manageable, they say.
What are some of the considerations being weighed? Keep clubhouses, locker rooms and the pro shop closed. People get to play as long as they stay six feet apart. Even raise the cups about an inch above the ground, so if your balls hits it, it’s considered a sunk putt. The player then doesn’t have to reach into the hole on the green, which may have been contaminated by another player. Spread out the tee times, ensuring groups don’t bunch up on tee boxes. Flags can be left permanently in the holes. There are so many ways around this.
We’ve been talking to a few of the people who run some of the top luxury golf clubs in the region. Here’s a selection of what they are telling us so far:
The clubhouse is closed, except for minimal cleaning, sanitizing and administrative activity, says Peter Oldfield, general manager, Rosedale Golf Club, on Mount Pleasant Rd. in downtown Toronto.
“The club has advised members that the timing and nature of any opening lie beyond its control,” Oldfield says. “At the same time, Rosedale has implemented an ongoing planning process designed to outline various possible opening scenarios.
“As a result, the club will be prepared to act in a timely manner should, and as, events permit. Members have also been advised that any opening scenario will be guided by several factors, including the prevailing public health environment, the recommendations and policies of relevant public authorities, and a sense of what is right for staff, members, and the club within the wider community.”
Terry Kim, the director for Angus Glen Golf Club, says the situation there is fluid, since it’s still uncertain when they can open and what restrictions will be in place. The club has 100 golf tournaments scheduled between mid May through July. That’s the biggest impact on their operations, he adds.
“With some events being as big as 500 golfers our assumption is that large group gatherings will not be allowed at this point,” Kim says.
Current plans for public golfers include:
- One person per cart, or walking
- Having the bag drop situated closer to the parking lot, with guests bringing their own bag to their cart
- No rakes in bunker
- Plans to reduce or eliminate touching of the flags
- Check-in at the carts
- Minimum access to the clubhouse/pro shop
- New cart washing procedures which include disinfecting certain key areas
- On-going issues include what to do with the half way house and food and beverage options, the driving range open, and how golfers can use facilities such as washrooms
Kim adds they are waiting for direction from government before putting concrete plans in place.
This is what is posted currently on ClubLink’s website – “It has come to our attention that some clubs have received visits from municipal law enforcement officers. The officers have been making sure that the Emergency Management and Civil Protection Act orders are being followed.
“This includes making sure the clubs are in fact closed, that only essential maintenance work continues and that a skeleton staff of employees are practicing social distancing. To be in compliance with this provincial order, we must remain completely closed to members, guests and general public. Even going for a walk on the golf course is not permitted at this time.”
The post added that ClubLink has been working with industry associations and advisory groups to develop operating safety procedures when the green light is given to open, which will include physical distancing and limited services, at least initially. Those services will be ramped back up on “a graduated basis.”
In terms of member fee structures, and how those will be impacted if the start of the season is delayed, or even cancelled outright:
“If there is an inordinate delay to the start of the golf season, we will revisit our policies and do what makes sense under the circumstances.”
Says Brian Decker, director of marketing and communications: “We’re currently developing a number of different plans for our eventual return to business as usual. With that said, it’s too early to say what our specific policies and procedures for golfers will be.
“We’ve discussed internally a number of scenarios for what golf and business operations might look like, but it’s far too premature to say what ones will be put in place. The reality is that there are simply too many variables left to be determined, especially with regards to guidance from health authorities.”
St. George’s was scheduled to be the host of the RBC Canadian Open this summer, but it was announced this week that the event has been cancelled due to the virus.
St. George’s is closed now, like everyone else, in accordance with municipal and provincial government orders. Questions about a safe rollout for players are up in the air.
“All options are being considered, however the details have not been communicated yet as we are still looking for public guidance from authorities,” says Andrea Aguiar-Oliverio, communications manager.