During COVID-19, every bit of recreational freedom can feel like an escape. With safety as the top priority, adapting to the "new normal" happens by degrees – like how golfers across America are returning to the course. In a way, they're playing the same game with new rules.
"It hasn't really changed that much," says Stan McFarland, Champion Hills member and lifelong golfer. In fact, though he identifies as "a little more introverted" than his coursemates, Stan says he's noticed a significant uptick in rounds being played at the club since COVID-19 restrictions went into place.
Others miss the close companionship of their fellow golfers before, during, and after a round, but it's not completely gone – players can still plan rounds together, chat from a safe distance, and keep groups coordinated. Even if the handshakes and high-fives are on hold, the spirit of friendly competition survives.
Teeing Up in the Time of COVID-19
Golf communities and country clubs across the nation are updating regulations to adopt current best practices as defined by state and local governments to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
Champion Hills has been similarly proactive: Carts are frequently sanitized; there are no rakes in the sand traps; ball washers have been removed, flag sticks are left in the cup with a pool noodle buffer; and more. No protective measure has been spared in ensuring golf is one of the safest sports to play during COVID-19.
The most apparent change is the adoption of social distancing, which prohibits golfers from making any physical contact with one another, or even from coming within six feet of another golfer. Golfers are instructed to ride one person to a cart, not including couples and spouses.
Golfers at Champion Hills agree that it's a necessary tradeoff. "[I'm] grateful ... that our golf course is open and we can play," says Marion Washer, another Champion Hills member and frequent golfer. Even at some 90 rounds per day, as her husband Richard estimates, members trust that the new restrictions are working. "I’m quite sure that social distancing has helped in keeping the virus away," he says.
It might not be the ladies' rounds Marion is used to, and Richard's Thursday foursome might have to space out their schedule – but underneath, golfers have found a way to keep doing what they love.
Despite Everything, Members Say, "It's Still Golf"
In fact, members don't seem to see the restrictions as limitations – if only by comparison during a publicly mandated quarantine. "I just enjoy getting out of the house and seeing friends," says Lynn McFarland, Stan's wife. "I find it is the only way to see many of my friends, so I try to play with different people and groups."
Before COVID-19, Lynn got on the course once or twice a week. Despite the pandemic – or perhaps because of it – she's more eager than ever to play a round.
"It's a beautiful mountain course," Lynn marvels. For Lynn and Stan McFarland, something about the open air and blue-sky beauty of Champion Hills is a natural antidote to cabin fever: "Seeing the sunshine can change your whole attitude for the day."
"That’s why we relocated here from Illinois in the first place – to play golf," Richard says of himself and his wife. "Twelve months a year. The restrictions have not been a hardship. We’re outside for 4+ hours [a day] getting fresh mountain air, able to play golf on a truly beautiful championship golf course that is just starting [to blossom] with azaleas, rhododendrons, flowering dogwood."
"Golf lends itself well to social distancing," Stan suggests. With all this space – traps and all – what's six feet and another cart among golfers? "It doesn't impact our enjoyment, that's our bottom line. It's still golf."