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GOLF: Fore once more! State gives courses the OK to reopen

GOLF: Fore once more! State gives courses the OK to reopen

MERIDEN — The greens have regained the green light.

After a confusing day of mixed signals that closed golf courses on Monday, the state of Connecticut on Wednesday gave courses the OK to reopen.

Here in Meriden, Hunter Golf Course will be back in business starting Thursday morning at 8:30 a.m.

Call 203-634-3366 for a tee time. You’re going to need one. They are mandatory.

At Hunter, head pro Bob Tiedemann was expecting his phone to be ringing. It has been with regularity since the course was closed on Monday. 

“People are calling,” Tiedemann said Wednesday. “People want normalcy in their life, you know, and this is it for some.”

Mandatory tee times are part of the “social distancing” stipulations that the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development is requiring as golfing resumes.

While pro shops can open, clubhouses cannot. Course restaurants, such as Violi’s at Hunter, will remain closed.

If golfers can walk, they should walk. If they need a cart, it’s one golfer to a cart.

Six-foot social distancing is required, as it is in all places where people interact during the COVID-19 crisis.

There are golf-specific changes. No caddies are allowed. You tote and handle your own clubs. Scorecards and pencils will not be distributed.

Course accoutrements will be altered. There will be no bunker raking. Flags will stay in the cup, which have been raised so balls won’t need to be retrieved.

That means no lip-outs on putts. (A few strokes and comic relief may be gained in trying times.)

“On nice days we should be busy because people want to be outside and they want to do something,” said Tiedemann.

Wednesday’s word from the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development was quickly passed along by the Connecticut State Golf Association.

“With this announcement from DECD, golf can be played, and played safely in Connecticut during the COVID-19 pandemic, but only if everyone follows these guidelines at all times — especially maintaining strict adherence to social distancing,” the CSGA stated. “It is also our opinion that any golfer who fails to abide by these guidelines should not be playing, and courses would be justified in expelling those who fail to follow these guidelines.

“Get some fresh air, get some exercise,” the CSGA added. “Enjoy this new way of playing the game and please be respectful of everyone's space, health and safety.”

The CSGA on Monday initially told its membership that golf courses has been ordered closed as part of the state decree requiring non-essential businesses to shut down. 

There was resistance. If it’s OK for Connecticut residents to walk in a park, the thinking went, then shouldn’t it be OK to walk at a golf course and take the proverbial risk of spoiling it with a round of 18?

“That’s what people’s attitudes are: If I can walk in the park, if I can go to the grocery store, why can’t I golf?” Tiedemann said. “I get it, to a degree, except if you’re sometimes me, the person behind the counter taking money.”

The CSGA, echoing the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development, is recommending credit card transactions. Hunter prefers that, too, but will take cash.

Traffic in the Hunter pro shop will be limited to four at a time. No loitering, no shooting the breeze. Keep your six-foot distance.

Also at Hunter, tee times will be spread out in 16-minute  intervals. The driving range will be closed. The practice green will remain open.

And while Hunter will do its best to keep “touch points” clean, golfers should bring their own sanitizing wipes.

“You can make arrangments; you can play golf and not be on top of anybody,” Tiedemann said.

“In some ways, I think it will self-police itself,” Tiedemann added. “If people are that concerned about it, they’re just going to stay home, especially if they’re a little older or with health issues — as they should.”

Golfers should be prepared for potential closings. With the coronavirus being such a fluid situation, Wednesday’s decision to reopen courses remains subject to review.

“We’ll see how it works,” Tiedemann said. “If the (case) levels increase, we’ll probably have to close.”

The irony among the irons is that many Connecticut golf courses had gotten off to an early and robust start due to the mild winter. Hunter, for one, opened in late February.

On pleasant days, Tiedemann said, 160-170 golfers were playing Meriden’s public course — and that was even on the shorter days, before Daylight Savings Time kicked in on March 8.

Then came the coronavirus pandemic.

“To tell you the truth, this is the first good spring we’ve had in a long time,” Tiedemann said. “We were having a good start. Winter rates, lower rates, but people want to be outside and play golf.

“On good days, I saw a lot of people that I’ve never seen. The private courses weren’t open. When you’re open and other places aren’t, they find you.”

Starting Thursday, they can go find Hunter again.