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OPENING FOR BUSINESS

Area golf courses preparing for season with much different gameplan

Messenger photo by Eric Pratt The pins are in at the Fort Dodge Country Club, which opened the golf course for play earlier this month. This is the green at the par-4 12th hole. Players are asked not to touch the sticks, however.

North-central Iowans looking for any signs of spring normalcy will soon find a glimmer of hope — if they haven’t already — at their local golf courses.

It may not be business as usual, but as the world continues to battle the COVID-19 pandemic, residents thirsting for any kind of outdoor recreational activity may discover their outlet on the links.

“We’ve been in constant communication with the Iowa Golf Course Superintendent Association, the Iowa Golf Association, the Iowa Section PGA of America, and of course our local leadership on this issue,” said Lakeside Golf Course superintendent and manager Chad Graaf. “We have no document or template to go from. This is obviously uncharted territory for us and courses across the state. So the best thing we can do is to formulate a strict set of guidelines that our golfers are expected to adhere to.

“The situation is, of course, fluid. We’re doing our best to offer an opportunity to the general public while also respecting the rules of social distancing established by Gov. (Kim) Reynolds. Long story short, people simply need to follow those rules for this to work. And I think they will.”

Lakeside is slated to open on Monday. A new list of regulations has been posted both on the door entering the clubhouse and on the course’s social media pages.

Among the notable requirements: pre-paid, required tee times in 15-minute increments; 48 hours of advanced scheduling for times; one person per cart with the exception of family members; and limited food and beverage options available for pick-up only (no outside coolers, food or beverage allowed).

“We had to first clear this with (parks and recreation director) Lori (Branderhorst), (city manager) David (Fierke) and (the Fort Dodge city) human resources department,” Graaf said. “Lori, (recreation superintendent) Hannah Angstrom and I sat down and brainstormed a list of scenarios and situations we needed to be aware of, and we’ll be meeting once a week to revisit the plan, as far as what’s working and what isn’t.

“Is all of this overkill? I don’t think so at all. This is our way of meeting in the middle; affording golfers the opportunity to play while expecting them to work with us and pay close attention to their surroundings. We’re putting a lot of faith in the people. We want to set this up and have them follow through so we can get the 2020 season started.”

The Fort Dodge Country Club opened for the season earlier this month, before the novel coronavirus began to wreak havoc on the United States. FDCC general manager and head professional David Boles said “necessary precautions” were immediately taken to bring course rules up to date with the new world of social distancing.

“As soon as the governor released her proclamation, we went to work coming up with a set of guidelines,” Boles said. “We talked it over with the IGA, as well as many other courses and sources throughout not just Iowa, but the midwest, to see how we should handle the situation moving forward.

“We have a ‘golf operations during a pandemic’ statement on our website and in other areas of accessibility for our players to follow. We’re following all of the requirements to a T.”

Boles added the FDCC has covered everything from pin treatment — flags are in, but should not be removed — to the disinfection of carts and even the way players greet each other.

“No handshakes,” Boles said.

The driving range and pro shop is open from 10 a.m. until 6 p.m. daily. Boles is cleaning range balls and wiping down handles on buckets as they are used.

“Safety, of course, is our utmost concern,” Boles said. “We want our members to use the course, but do so with the health of others in mind.”

Like Lakeside, the Humboldt Country Club is slated to open on Monday — albeit to a much different atmosphere. Course general manager and superintendent Tom Miller has already communicated the new expectations to members; many of the same standards adopted by Lakeside will apply.

“We’re also using ‘modified cups,’ with the cup turned upside down,” Miller said. “You putt up to it until the ball strikes the hole. We won’t have flag sticks, ball washers or bunker rakes out.

“We’re trying to limit or even eliminate areas where people would touch with their hands. We’re only allowing one customer in the pro shop at a time, and any food or beverage orders will offer ‘curbside pickup.’ We’ve kept members informed electronically and via social media, all the way through word of mouth. We are both hoping and expecting they respect these guidelines and hold each other to this standard until we hear otherwise.”

Miller emphasized the importance of being back on the course from a “mental health standpoint.”

“It’s obviously been a very difficult month for all of us,” Miller said. “We don’t have the extensive trail system that Fort Dodge offers, for instance, so I think a golf course will be a welcome opportunity both for avid (players) and even the casual golfer who simply wants to get out for some fresh air.

“This is our new reality, at least for the time being, so we have to make the most of it. We’re doing the best we can, and appreciate the cooperation of others to make sure this offer (for open play) stands. Safety will always come first.”

Deer Creek Golf Club, like the Fort Dodge Country Club, allowed players to use both the driving range and the course beginning earlier this month. A sign at Willow Ridge indicates their course is “tentatively planning to open” on Saturday, with a separate message about the importance of social distancing. Briggs Woods Golf Course in Webster City is slated for a Wednesday launch into 2020.

“I’ve been at this for 18 years,” Graaf said. “I have a lot of friends and colleagues in this business. We’re all trying to do the right thing, and we’re working together to make it happen while mitigating the risk. As long as we remain proactive and put our people first, which we will, we’re going to find a way and settle into a new normal.”

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