When golf returned last week, Taylor Merrill was in the pole position.
Merrill and a buddy had the very first starting time, 7 a.m., at Crossgates Golf Club in Millersville, after the golf industry reopened in Pennsylvania under order of Gov. Tom Wolf.
Merrill talked his playing partner into dressing like Happy Gilmore. Merrill dressed like Gilmore’s caddy, Otto. A crew from a local TV station had showed up at 5:30 a.m. in a van to record the opening salvos.
The weather did not cooperate. About three inches of rain poured on Lancaster County in roughly a 24-hour period from Thursday into Friday morning. Once Merrill and “Happy’’ got on the course, the rain started again. By the fifth hole, they were wading through standing water and shots were plugging when landing in fairways.
Having already passed the TV cameras, they decided to call it a day. A little taste of golf was enough.
“It was worth it, but the honeymoon stage was over at that point,’’ Merrill said.
Not for everybody. Friday wasn’t quite the opening day the golf business hoped for because of the rain, but most local courses had tee times booked virtually from sunrise to sunset Friday, Saturday and Sunday.
About 500 rounds were played at Crossgates over the weekend, according to the pro there, Jason Przystup. About 400 were played at Bent Creek Country Club, even though the club spaced its tee times 15 minutes apart, which was even more time that suggested in social-distancing guidelines from golf’s governing bodies.
Most local courses, public and private, experienced similar numbers.
Many in the industry went into the weekend concerned that golfers would observe guidelines, and that course employees could interact with the public safely.
There were apparently minimal problems.
“I had people say, ‘Tell me what to do, and I’ll do it,’ ’’ Przystup said. “Whatever you say, I’ll do. I just want to play.’’
“Our No. 1 goal is for everybody to be safe,’’ said Rick Gibson, the pro at Lancaster Country Club. “It was very successful from that standpoint.’’
“Ninety percent of our customers followed the rules without us having to ask,’’ Highlands of Donegal pro Matt Groff said. “The other 9.9% followed when we did (ask).’’
Highlands of Donegal, like most courses, asked customers to wear masks in the parking lot, clubhouse area or when in proximity to others. Masks were not required while actually playing.
Groff said he had to ask a couple maskless patrons to go home.
The guidelines include using a touchless device, and raised cups or foam liners, to avoid golfers touching the flagstick or hole.
The favored solution there seems to be a cut-up section of a foam swimming pool noodle that goes over the flagstick and rests in the hole. The devices allow putts to be legitimately “holed,’’ but with the ball coming to rest on the foam, where it can be grabbed by the golfer without touching the cup or flagstick.
Anything we can do to reduce human contact will keep the course open longer! Pool noodle is awesome @GolfAust @Rod_Morri @InsideThe_Ropes @PGAofAustralia @DavidGallichio @gavin_golf @hendygolf @AndyMaherDFA @Hayesy24 @karenharding123 @GolfAustMag @GolfDigestAU pic.twitter.com/zZJZy5ag1P— Sandy Jamieson (@jamogolf) March 20, 2020
Another big change may have had a happy and unexpected side effect. Most pros and course operators reported faster-than-usual play. The one-golfer-per-cart guideline, allowing each golfer to motor directly to his own ball, along with the spread-out tee times, could be the explanation.
“Our normal pace of play is four hours (per round),’’ said Jim Haus, the pro at Bent Creek. “Surprisingly, we did a little better than that.’’