On Monday, Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee’s “safer at home” executive order and Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam’s “stay at home” executive order both designated several recreational activities as essential.
Among them was golf.
Many people feel a golf course is about as safe a place as you can be these days, considering the wide open green space and fresh air. Of course, golfers, like everyone else, have been urged to take the proper precautions to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus.
“Golf is one of the few events you can do that seems safe,” said Hal McHorris, a local golf enthusiast and the director of the Upper East Tennessee Seniors Golf League. “It is fantastic because as you know, it’s either walk on the street with your wife or ride a bike by yourself. I’ll tell you the truth, I’ve seen more people outside during this than I have before.
“I think people are stir crazy and they want to get out and around. They keep separation as requested.”
One local course not helped by Lee’s order was Kingsport’s Warriors Path, part of Tennessee State Parks system. All state park courses were shut down last Thursday with a tentative re-opening date of April 10.
The Warriors Path staff is allowed to maintain the course while it is closed.
Other courses can remain open at their discretion but are urged to take safety precautions, including increasing the sanitization of golf carts and making sure customers don’t congregate into groups.
Some courses are not allowing players to ride together, giving each their own carts. With a new USGA rule installed last year, players are allowed to putt with the flagstick in. That reduces the need to touch the stick.
Other courses are removing rakes so players don’t have to touch them. Golfers are asked to used their feet to smooth their footprints in the sand.
The cups are another matter. Hundreds of balls go into the hole daily at a busy course, meaning hundreds of hands go in as well.
Courses are trying to help in different ways. Some have filled the hole partway with cut Styrofoam so the ball can’t go in as deep, keeping people’s hands out of the holes. Others have installed the cups upside down and sticking partly out of the ground so the ball can’t enter at all. A putt that hits the cup is considered holed.
Though not ideal, most golfers feel the changes beat the alternative of the courses shutting down.
“What we’re having to do is if you hit it and we think it would have gone in, it’s in,” said McHorris, who plays at Ridgefields Country Club. “We’re having to be liberal in that situation.”
McHorris continues to play every day he can — he’s 79 and rarely shoots over his age — but his Seniors Golf League has been on hold since holding the season’s first event at McDonald Hills.
“We hated to do it, but we had to do it,” he said. “A high percentage of our members are in the at-risk category.”
The league for golfers 55 and older boasted a membership of 260 last year with participants from Knoxville to Big Stone Gap. It’s not unusual for more than 100 golfers to play in an event. The tournaments are held on Mondays and Thursdays at local courses.
McHorris took over running the league from the late Ralph Hudson.
“I give Ralph Hudson the credit for it being what it is right now,” said McHorris, who has won numerous tournaments throughout the years. “Ralph made a bunch of changes that I think really encouraged a lot of people to get in the league. Ralph was like a dictator. He did have a committee, but he used to say he was a benevolent dictator.”
Hudson relaxed the rules to make it easier for the seniors to shoot good scores. He also persuaded the courses to allow players to consolidate gift certificates at the end of the year so they didn’t have to drive all over the map to spend their winnings.
The Seniors Golf League is hoping to get back under way next month. May 11 is the tentative date.
“Hopefully we’ll get to start up then,” McHorris said. “I think what happens between now and then is subject to who knows. It could get a whole lot better or it could get a whole lot worse.”
Activities deemed essential in Tennessee
• Sports or recreational activities that can be performed while maintaining precautions or using public parks and outdoor recreation areas
NOTE: Congregating or playing on playgrounds presents a unique risk for the spread of the novel coronavirus and is not considered an essential activity.