Golf courses reopen in Saskatchewan

May 24, 2020, 4:25 am
by Rob Paul, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter


As the weather begins to warm up and the sun lights the sky longer and longer each day, people want to enjoy their time outdoors.

For the time being, the Covid-19 pandemic has thrown the vast majority of warm weather plans out the window.

With provinces beginning preliminary steps to reopen, one beloved summer activity has returned just in time for the warm weather, golf.

As part of its five phase reopening plan, Saskatchewan allowed golf courses to open up May 15 as long as Covid-19 guidelines are followed.

Although the reopening of golf courses will be under strict rules and adjustments to comply with promoting a safe and healthy environment amid Covid-19, it will provide some normalcy in peoples lives and give them some sort of chance to get away.

“A lot of the plan is laid out by the Government of Saskatchewan in their Reopen Saskatchewan documents,” said Pipestone Hills Golf Club President Pat McDonald.

“We had to follow the rules that came out as they were laid out in the guidelines.”

“We got the first round of this a few weeks ago when they announced the phased reopening plan and it didn’t fit everything we needed on a nine-hole small town course. The guidelines were really set up for busy 18-hole courses.”

“Once we got that information, I emailed the SGA director and said that we get the intent of what everybody is trying to do here with setting these rules, but instead of telling us how, they should have said these are the conditions we must meet.”

“When I was talking to them they said they had heard similar concerns from other courses and so they came out with some updates to the course guidelines and those were more favourable to what we needed out here.”

“Then the government listened to — I’m sure it was the SGA pulling on their ear after the member clubs were telling them certain things didn’t fit. They came back with some modified guidelines that are more easily achievable and more fair to the smaller courses.”

With the province slowly reopening through a phased plan, McDonald thinks the reopening of golf courses is a good way to give people an outdoor activity to participate in after so much isolation.

“The government has done a good job reopening and I think golf is one of the recreational sports you can do while managing to physical distance reasonably,” said McDonald. “It’s usually groups of four, you can go by yourself and they did a good job of recognizing that.”

“Everybody has been cooped up long enough that they needed some sort of outlet to be able to go and do something.”

It might be a slightly different experience, but McDonald expects the transition to golf following Covid-19 guidelines won’t be too difficult with everybody adjusting to this new way of life.

“It’s not going to be difficult (implementing the measures needed to reopen), a lot of it is just Covid-19 related,” said McDonald. “Everybody should know what Covid-19 is and a lot of the direction is around physical distancing.”

“So if you’re practicing good measures on that — like you should be already — it shouldn’t impact you much coming out to play the game.”

“There are some changes, like we can’t open our restaurant for patrons to sit in, but we can do takeout like all the other restaurants.”

McDonald says for the Pipestone Hills Golf Course they put together a Covid-19 specific committee to ensure they would be following all the guidelines and be ready to give people the information they need to adjust to the new rules.

“What we did was locally we set up a Covid-19 committee for the golf course — for the grounds and the clubhouse — and we met and looked at the Covid-19 protocols we need to follow here,” said McDonald. “We looked at what more we need to do and how certain things affect us.”

“We’ve had a couple meetings and the big thing was from the government guidelines with proper signage and we got all that done. Then we’re going to give a bit of a cheatsheet to the golfers who don’t understand all the rules. They understand the golf game, but they don’t understand the golf game as it relates to Covid-19 now.”

“As everybody is coming out and we’re starting into the season, we’re giving everybody the Covid-19 rules of golf or we’re calling it Covid-19 etiquette,” said McDonald.

“We’re handing that out with the score card and telling them what they need to do and practice on the course.”

With the importance of following the Covid-19 golf rules, McDonald says just to make sure people are educated and correctly physical distancing, they’ll have more staff around the course.

“One of the things we’re going to do right off the start here — which is something we don’t normally do — typical golf courses have starters and marshals to watch for course action and course behaviour, we’re going to do that for the first couple weeks,” said McDonald. “That will be part of the Covid-19 education that we’re going to do. Just to ensure the etiquette of Covid-19 on the golf course.”

“So we’re going to marshal it for the first couple weeks and watch how people are behaving out there. We’re telling people only so many on the tee box, don’t crowd the tee box, don’t crowd the group in front of you. So we’ll marshal it and watch it for a few weeks to see how it plays out and I’m anticipating that as people become educated and familiar we can move away from the marshalling.”

Despite many jobs being affected by Covid-19, McDonald says with a need to have the course maintained whether they’re open or not, it didn’t play a role in seasonal hiring.

“It hasn’t impacted hiring because we were always in a state of, we have to maintain the course anyways,” said McDonald. “If we did nothing on the grounds, it would get away from you and take a long time to recover.”

“We also thought, this is going to break and we will have a chance to reopen. The timing of it with the weather, it wasn’t a growing season so we just had to come in with a care and control of maintenance. It impacted our clubhouse staff slightly — we had a manager ready to go, but we were able to get her open on time just kind of doing the proper prep work. So it’s not going to have an ill effect on our staff at all.”

The natural physical distancing that occurs during golf is part of the thought process behind reopening golf courses while other sports remain off-limits and McDonald thinks it could lead to a lot of people heading to the course.

“We’re always pretty busy anyways, we get a lot of people out there and if fear of Covid-19 isn’t too high in the area — and I don’t think it is if people are looking at the numbers and feeling comfortable about how the community as a whole is following the rules — we’re actually going to be busier because we’ve got no swimming pool, no baseball, no other recreational events going on,” said McDonald. “People are looking for an outlet to do something. The fact that we’re open, we’re expecting to have an increased participation rate out at the course this year.”

“The other thing they did do — we have a seniors league, a men’s league, and a ladies league — they relaxed the rules around the leagues,” said McDonald. “Those leagues will look different in how you play them, but at least they’re allowing you to do this as long as you’re Covid-19 smart in how you plan it. So we’re going to get an opportunity to get some of those things going.”

With Covid-19 cases being on the low end in rural Saskatchewan, McDonald is comfortable getting back into the swing of things and trusts golfers will be smart about playing.

“I feel very comfortable,” said McDonald. “Like everybody else, we’re watching the numbers and in south and central Saskatchewan there’s low numbers. Still, you’re only one contact away from somebody being in the wrong spot and not practicing good physical distancing or with some of the Covid-19 hygiene guidelines you’re only one person away from that taking off on you.”

“You’ve still got to be really careful out here, but when you look at the numbers, I’m interpreting it as people are doing their part in rural areas. I feel comfortable and so does the board about reopening and proceeding with the golf season.”