New Hampshire golf courses, including Jaffrey’s Shattuck Golf Club, Peterborough’s Hilltop Golf Course and Francestown’s Crotched Mountain Golf Club are set to reopen Monday under the state’s new “stay-at-home 2.0” order.
“I think so many people need it — including myself,” said Shattuck owner Doni Ash on Tuesday.
Golf’s natural social distancing made it an easy sell for early reopening despite the ongoing concerns regarding COVID-19.
“If you want to keep it super safe, just don’t take a cart,” Ash said. “Go out and walk nine holes, 18 holes, then you aren’t touching anything, you’re basically going out for a hike in the woods with your golf clubs.”
Under the new orders, tee times are required and must be spaced out at least 12 minutes apart. Crotched Mountain’s website allows for online tee time booking and urges “walk-ons” to call from their car for the next available tee time.
On Thursday, Ash said he already had about 50 golfers lined up for Shattuck’s Monday opening; in Peterborough, Hilltop owner Annie Card said that tee time reservations are going fast for opening day as well.
“We’re excited, my members are excited, — the phone is ringing off the hook,” Card said. “People are understanding, and they’re excited to come out, and that’s all a business owner can hope.”
When Governor Chris Sununu ordered golf courses closed in March, Card was preparing for an early opening after a mild winter. Thrust into uncertainty, she was faced with a bleak possibility: if golf courses were ordered closed for the entire season, she’d have to refund all Hilltop’s membership dues, on top of losing tens of thousands of dollars in revenue from canceled events scheduled for the function hall — which is used towards necessary upkeep on the course.
“If I didn’t start mowing it three or four weeks ago, this would never be a golf course again,” Card said.
Card reached out to her membership base and asked them for help. Renew your membership despite the uncertainty, tell a friend to sign up, or make a donation, anything would help. The response was overwhelming.
“It was really nice that some many people stepped up and said ‘Here’s the money, I hope it helps, start mowing the grass and fertilize it,” Card said. “But I didn’t want to just have my crew watering and mowing and keeping it beautiful and no one can use it. Now my tee sheet is filling up with members and non-members, there are greens fees coming in now and that’s what is going to keep us going.”
Sununu’s order specifies that courses are open to New Hampshire residents and course members only, which theoretically stems the urge for interstate travel amidst a pandemic. Neighboring Massachusetts, however, has yet to announce a reopening date for the commonwealth’s golf courses; while Hilltop and Crotched might have only a handful of members from out-of-state, the Shattuck, right on the southern border of New Hampshire, has a slew of club members from Massachusetts. But between the protocols instituted by the executive order and the inherent nature of the game of golf, Ash isn’t too concerned.
“We’re not worried about it at all,” Ash said, “because I think one of the safest things you can do is play golf.”
The order sets several new sanitary standards for golf course operations. Employees must wear masks at all times, pro shops must stay closed, as must driving and putting ranges, and rental clubs are out of the question, which eliminates several revenue streams.
“We’re just kind of taking it one day at a time,” Ash said. “It’s going to be a slow summer for sure.”
On the course, there are a few new restrictions as well. To avoid a parade of golfers reaching into each cup on each hole and fishing around for a ball after putting, cups have been raised. Both Ash and Card said they’d cut up foam pool noodles and placed them in the cups so that the balls are easily retrievable; Card said that had the potential to affect some golfers’ short games.
“We all like to drive long if we can,” she said, “but the real golfers like to separate themselves by their putting game. It’s more about a gentle touch.”
On-course amenities like ball-washers and benches must be removed, flags must stay in the hole at all times, and bunker rakes are not available for the public — another incentive to stay out of sand traps.
“I’ve been telling people that for years,” Ash joked. “They don’t listen to me. Now, more than ever, stay out of the bunkers.”
While the essentials of gameplay remain the same, the social aspects of golf are what will be the most different when the courses reopen.
“It’s a very social sport,” Card said. “A lot of people will say its 90 percent social.”
Clubhouse dining is closed, but can operate to-go like any restaurant and even sell to-go alcohol. Carts are single-occupancy, unless both members of a party live in the same household.
“I’ve got members who have been here for 30, 40 years and have always ridden in the same cart together,” Card said. “Now these two guys in their 90s have to take separate carts.”
Still, Card said the restrictions won’t prevent her course from running its usual league competition and won’t slow any determined golfers.
“People can get out and swing their clubs like they always do,” she said.