Area golf courses prepare for what opening during pandemic might look like

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The Alexandria Golf Club, pictured here this spring, is one of many area golf courses that has management putting together a plan on how it can welcome back golfers safely during the COVID-19 pandemic if courses are given the OK to open up in the coming weeks. (Lowell Anderson / Echo Press)

As of April 15, golf courses were still closed in Minnesota throughout the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Tim Walz, but management at clubs locally and throughout the state are getting plans in place to be ready if they are allowed to open up in the coming weeks.

As part of the executive order to extend the stay-at-home policy in Minnesota to May 4, golf course grounds crew workers are now able to maintain their courses. Previously, individual government entities had to declare golf course employees as essential. All courses can be maintained even while they remain closed to the public, and Walz has sounded optimistic in recent press conferences to the possibility of allowing courses to open for play as long as a plan can be put in place to do it safely as it pertains to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“I think golf will be able to be played here in some form,” Grant Hanson, head golf professional at the Geneva Golf Club in Alexandria, said on April 14. “We’re obviously hopeful for that. I know our facility is going to go above and beyond. We’re going to be very strict about cleaning and doing everything we can to keep people safe and our employees safe.”

Those plans to ensure golfers are safe and abiding by social distancing guidelines at courses are being talked about on a near daily basis at local clubs.

Hanson said that Geneva Golf Club is fortunate in that it has a blueprint to look at due to its ownership group, Thompson Golf Group, also owning three courses in Arizona. People are allowed to golf in Arizona, though under rules that look much different than golfers are used to.


Osakis High School golfer Kadyn Triebenbach watches her shot from just off the green at AGC during a meet last spring. Golfers will likely see a large list of changes in how they have to play when courses do open up in Minnesota. (Eric Morken / Echo Press File Photo)

Changes in place to help ensure player safety include spraying down carts with a cleaning solution after each use. Cups are being flipped upside down so the ball only falls an inch into the hole. Pins are required to be left in and bunker rakes have been removed.

“Limiting the contact points throughout the golf course is the main idea,” Hanson said.

Some courses are set up to take online payments. The number of players in a group could be limited, and adding additional minutes between tee times to ensure more separation on courses has also been used.

“Personally, I’ve been researching constantly what courses are doing in the south and just seeing what golf looks like there,” Kyle Lee, head golf professional at the Alexandria Golf Club, said. “Our plan is to be very fluid. It’s going to change constantly. That’s kind of where we’re at right now, but we’re working very, very hard to make sure we’re ready.”

Lee did not want to lay out exactly what a plan might look like at AGC due to how rapidly-evolving the situation is around COVID-19.

“I can tell you this. Golf is going to look different,” he said. “When that day comes, I’m going to have a very comprehensive list of what Alexandria Golf Club looks like.”


Kim Niehoff, clubhouse manager at the Osakis Country Club, also did not want to talk about a specific plan the course might have until after the board of directors had a chance to meet to go over more details.

“We are 100% confident we will keep our golfers safe and hope to get them on the course as soon as we can,” Niehoff said.

Courses all over the state will have guidelines in place. An onus will also be on golfers to make sure they abide by a new normal in order to ensure that the opportunity to play continues.

“Obviously, we’re going to have the policies in place, and we’re going to enforce them and keep you safe when you’re coming to the golf course,” Hanson said. “When you’re out there playing, you’re going to have to self police a little bit. Anyone could ruin it for other people, but I think people are going to be respectful because golf will be one of the safest things you can do and still have some activity and interaction, be outside and do it safely.”

Most courses in the Douglas County area open up in mid-April during a typical year. That’s dependent on weather, but an already short season for golfers and those in the golf business will no doubt be affected. Clubhouses and restaurants at courses are not likely to be fully operational, if open at all, during the beginning stages of golfers getting back on the course.

“I think we have to look at it this way. What industry is this not going to affect?” Lee said. “We’re all in this together. There’s no doubt that it’s going to change things. I feel like golf is very fortunate because it’s something that all of us want to do right now. When that day comes, what does it look like?”

Course managers are putting the final pieces together on plans to answer that question, and are eager to welcome golfers back through proper safety measures if given the OK.

“At the end of the day, it’s making sure our community is safe and that we don’t overload our hospital systems in rural America,” Lee said. “Golf is an avenue that people are searching for to get out of the house and do something. When that day comes, we hope to be really ready and diligently practice social distancing at AGC. It’s a whole new world.”


Eric Morken is a sports and outdoor editor at the Echo Press Newspaper in Alexandria, Minnesota, a property of the Forum News Service. Morken covers a variety of stories throughout the Douglas County area, as well as statewide outdoor issues.
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