Over an inch of rain was but a fleeting thought for many golfers who traveled north for a chance to walk the fairways or drive the cart paths at The Links of Gettysburg on Friday.
The loosening of Pennsylvania’s restrictions for non-essential businesses began Friday morning as golf courses, marinas, guided fishing trips and privately-owned campgrounds reopened after seven weeks of forced closure. Gov. Tom Wolf’s administration allowed outdoor recreational industries to reopen, provided they follow COVID-19 related regulations.
“Golf is my favorite thing in the world. This game runs in my family and I love it,” said Matt Fortese, an assistant pro at Fairway at Greencastle Greens who ventured to The Links for its re-opening. “I’ve done my best to socially distance, but I know the golf courses are doing a lot of things to help with that. You’re outside in the middle of a farm, so it’s the best place to be.”
Fortese had one of dozens of tee times scheduled Friday at The Links. Rounds, scheduled in advance and spaced 20 minutes apart, began at 7 a.m, said John Long, course superintendent.
Golfers entered the pro shop alone or in their groupings, filed in one door to register with a masked desk clerk, then exited out another door to maintain proper social distancing. A limit of one cart per customer will be the norm for at least a couple weeks, as per state guidelines, Long said. Outdoor seating is not available to prevent people from congregating, he said.
On the course, each hole’s plastic cup has been flipped upside down and refastened so the ball can enter the hole, but won’t sink deep enough to require golfers to dig to retrieve it. Golfers are reminded they are not to touch the flags and rakes. Ball washers and water jugs have been removed from the course to eliminate the potential spread of disease, Long said.
Further safety precautions will be taken throughout the week, Long said. The staff is adjusting as the situation develops, he said.
Long worked with four employees to maintain the renowned course during the break. He was excited to have a course free of ball marks and divots to present to the community.
“It’s looking great” he said. “The detail work might not be there but we’re extremely happy with the conditions considering the time of year.”
In a typical year, the period from mid-March to the beginning of May is usually one of lower revenue, Long said. Because this year had an exceptionally warm spring, the course probably lost more potential earnings than it would have in other years, but Long said it was not revenue the business counted on.
“There are years where I made it to May 1 and was mowing my rough for the first time because the winter was so cold,” he said. “I’ve mowed it four times already. From a budgeting standpoint, it wasn’t the worst hit we could take.”
An hour after the announcement the course could reopen, Long had already booked 60 reservations, he said. All tee times for Saturday and Sunday were filled by Wednesday evening. A block from 8 a.m. to 12 p.m. on Monday was also full, he said.
Fortese was one of the lucky ones, getting a reservation early. He drove from Hagarstown, Maryland, to meet a friend at The Links for the re-opening and was so excited he arrived two hours before his tee time.
“As you know, everyone’s been going stir crazy,” he said while enjoying a sandwich and other refreshments from the Links’ outdoor walk-up restaurant. “I thought, ‘I could sit and watch a movie and accomplish nothing, or I could get this hour-long drive out of the way, get my bearings and some breakfast and take some swings.’”
Long walks and jogs helped Fortese remain in shape during the downtime, occasionally practicing his putting on his carpet at home. The spongy course, even after a day’s worth of rain, was a vast improvement, he said.
“You get your money’s worth when you’re out here, that’s for sure,” Fortese said. “It’s really beautiful out here.”
Another golfer, Parker Bratton, made the trek from Baltimore to enjoy the course. He was fortunate to find patches of land where he could practice his strokes during the shutdown.
Bratton was glad he had a flexible work schedule, saying his boss is as big a fan of the game as he is and would have come along if he didn’t have to care for his children.
Since Maryland courses are still closed, Bratton was quick to book a tee time on the local course.
“I was pretty excited. I didn’t sleep too well last night,” he said. “You can ride a bike or go for a run, which is great, but golfers want to golf. This is one of the best sports for this time of year and the courses are going to be in great condition.”