On March 15, the Georgia Southern University Golf Course hosted a few final rounds before closing due to the coronavirus outbreak. What was initially scheduled to be a two week shutdown has dragged on for more than two months, but play is scheduled to resume as the course will open for play Friday morning.
Across the country, golf has been one sport that hasn’t been completely shut down by the pandemic. Depending on the state - or the preferences of individual courses - many courses have been open for play throughout as the nature of the sport allows for people to play while adhering to public health guidelines. However, Georgia Southern - out of an abundance of caution for its course employees and the students, faculty and community members that often play the course - made the decision to remain closed until it could ensure a safe environment for golfers.
The pings of drivers and the humming of golf carts may have been absent over the last two months, but a dedicated staff has been hard at work in keeping the course ready for play.
“A golf course is unique from other sports venues in that it’s a living, breathing thing,” GSU course superintendent Patrick Reinhardt said. “You can’t just let a course sit and come back when you want to play. Keeping it in good shape and playing the way you want it is very heavily based in science and it’s something we’ve continued to work on.”
Reinhardt added that the course - which routinely hosts high school tournaments, Georgia Southern practices and even some collegiate events - will be in good shape Friday thanks to plenty of help from student staff.
“We really appreciate the work our students have done,” Reinhardt said. “About 90 percent of our staff at the course are students. Of course, classes were canceled right when the course closed. A lot of students headed back home, but we have some great staff who have stuck around to continue to help.”
Golf course maintenance - like the game itself - is luckily something that can be done while social distancing. With equipment being sanitized and the staff being staggered to avoid large numbers, things have been running smoothly.
According to Reinhardt, there is a silver lining for those who have been missing out on rounds at the course. There won’t be any huge changes for those familiar with the layout, but two months without play has allowed the staff to work on drainage areas and repair other high-traffic areas.
“Overall, we were able to go about our work thinking more long term, rather than the day-to-day things,” Reinhardt said. “There were things like cups on greens and raking bunkers that we didn’t have to do. That allowed us to pay more attention to grass cutting and we were able to aerate the greens, which is something that usually affects play in the summer.”
Friday’s reopening marks the first phase of the course’s plan to eventually return to all normal policies. Running until June 30, all golfers riding carts will be limited to one rider per cart unless two riders live in the same household. Strict social distancing of six feet will be required of all players. Tee times will be spaced 15 minutes apart and all tee times must be made in advance as no walk-ups will be permitted.
Points of contact such as ball washers, water coolers and bunker rakes have been removed from the course and all pins are to remain in the hole while players putt.
The clubhouse will have marked instructions for specified entrances and exits while the cafe area of the clubhouse will serve food and drinks on a to-go only basis.
“We want people to have fun, but to stay safe,” Reinhardt said. “We’re ready for everyone to get out and enjoy the course again and we’re going to continue working to keep it in great shape.”