On Course in a Crisis: How One Facility is Adapting–and the opportunity at hand

Pat Michener, golf course superintendent at Bidermann Golf Club in Delaware, where golf is open for play, gives us a view on what the industry looks like currently, when both maintenance and play are allowed.

Talking about golf and course maintenance in the middle of a pandemic may seem out of the realm of reality for a lot of people – but not for superintendents and others in the industry.  We are, in fact, part of a group of people who are encouraging this discussion to achieve a level of recreation or economic function for our members, customers, ourselves, and our teams.

We’re aware of the restrictions placed on golf and I don’t intend to review those.  We are collectively faced with hardships, personal to professional, that not only hamper expectations now but will do so for the foreseeable future.  Golf will survive, but like you, I have no idea what golf and course maintenance look like when we get back to “normal.”

The good news is golf is alive in Delaware (for now.)  I am hopeful that the First State can be an example to states around us when we start reintroducing activities back into our lives that don’t include self-isolation.  I readily admit it is different, in many indescribable ways, but golf is here for them (and us) and they appreciate that – even if it is just for a few holes.

The Governor of Delaware has not closed golf courses since this all began just before St. Patrick’s Day. There have been 10 or so modifications to his executive orders that have included golf at some level.  Thankfully, the Governor’s office has been responsive to requests for clarification about modifications that apply to Delaware golf courses and clubs.  We have been fortunate to have Jordan Seemans, Director of Legislative Affairs at the Governor’s office, to help clarify the legal language of the modifications – he is also an advocate for golf.

Using the Governor’s directives as a foundation, it was then up to our Club’s governing body to establish a set of guidelines for our members and staff that suggested a safe and cautious environment to come play golf.

Below are just a few of the highlights of opening the course although it is constantly evolving:

   Tee times start at 9 am to account for a reduced agronomy team.

   Currently, only members are permitted on the golf course.

   Golf is permitted for walking only (Governor’s latest modification does not permit cart use.)

   Tee times are in 15 minute intervals – groups must adhere to social distancing standards.

   Putting green and chipping green are available only 15 minutes prior to your tee time.

   Locker rooms, bathrooms, common facilities are closed to prevent gathering areas.

   We are using cup inserts and have eliminated most on-course touch points.

   Staff schedules are staggered. All staff members are provided and must wear face coverings and gloves.

We all remain optimistic that the condition of COVID-19 will improve as the weeks go by.  With that said, the reality is also setting in that we will not be flicking the switch back to “normal” any time soon.  Golf, like most other businesses, will likely come with a different set of rules and standards to abide by that will shape the future of our industry and the world of golf.

It’s not the end – in fact it’s an opportunity.  Let’s all be proactive, along with our industry leadership, in continuing the conversation to get golf back on its feet.