Some golfers joke that course greens fees are how “you pay for the sound” of the ball rattling around the hollow plastic cup. It’s a unique noise that can only be found on the green.
Although Long Beach golf courses reopened last weekend, that sound is off the market.
The pins have been screwed into the hole, which keeps the ball up on the lip for easy retrieval without having to touch anything. That is just one way the game of golf has changed for the safer amidst COVID-19 concerns.
“We did what we had to do (to reopen),” American Golf regional general manager Gary Johnson said. “I hated closing the doors. It was a very sad moment… To see them opening back up is incredible. We’re excited.”
American Golf runs El Dorado Park, Skylinks, Heartwell and both Recreation Park golf courses here in Long Beach. Johnson said that all five were very busy over the weekend, but the rounds were completed without major incident.
“Maintaining social distancing is going to be the main part of coming back out to play golf,” Johnson said. “As long as (golfers are) abiding by the rules and wearing their face masks and washing their hands, I think it will go very smoothly.”
Saturday was the first day golfers returned to their favorite local courses, and each of them lined up outside the pro shops six feet apart to check-in or use the driving range.
A few golfers said they were happy to be outside, no matter what they were doing.
“I just miss people,” 15-year-old student Ky Stopp said. “I think we all do. It’s great to see people’s faces for once in three months.”
“As far as social distancing, and keeping the infectivity low, I don’t think there’s much better than golf,” said Vivek Gulati, who is a resident anesthesiologist at UC Irvine. “There’s a large radius between you and anyone else. And I think it’s just a good thing for morale overall.”
He laughed about how the masks are the new thing you forget in the car while packing your golf bag, and said he plans to play a lot more now.
“You could probably make tennis work as well, but other sports like basketball just aren’t (distanced enough),” Gulati said. “It’s going to be something we have to grapple with going forward because it’s likely not the last time something like this happens, unfortunately. We need to come up with a cohesive way to not stop all of life, but at the same time maintain the health of the community at large.”
Johnson and his staff only needed about 48 hours to bring most of the courses’ employees back while adding the necessary safety changes to the clubhouse. With new plastic shields in place, concession stands and restaurants located at the course are operating for take-out only.
Golf carts are constantly being disinfected, and are only available for single riders. Johnson and American Golf is working with the Long Beach Health Department to allow multiple riders if they can prove they live in the same household.
Johnson said his biggest concern is golfers coming to the course without a mask— which are still required if you’re within six feet of anyone. There were more than a few maskless golfers milling around the Recreation Park clubhouse on Saturday.
“Whether they don’t care to or not, it’s not about them. It’s about the people they’re around,” Johnson said. “We’re interacting with 200-300 people every day. So please respect the people who are working there and make sure you’re abiding by the rules that are set in place so that we don’t get shut down again.”
Johnson said golfers must wear masks while checking in and while using the practice facilities. He also said patrons won’t necessarily have to wear a mask while on the course because, “You’ll be in wide open spaces.”
The courses looked incredible on Saturday with freshly cut fairways and soft pristine greens. Some groups at Rec Park finished their 18-hole rounds in less than four hours because the majority of the golfers knew how to maintain pace of play.
At the end of each round of golf there is a customary handshake between players. Instead of violating social distancing, some golfers pantomimed a handshake from more than six feet away.
“I haven’t seen people in awhile because I live by myself, so it’s good to get out, see some friends, and play some golf,” Long Beach resident Mike Valdes said. “I’m playing with my buddy and when I beat him typically he’d high-5 me. So we can’t do that now.”