Golf courses reopen in Tulare County

Courses reopen with slight changes to avoid public points of contact and limit possible transmissions of the novel coronavirus

VISALIA – When Tulare County started taking measures to halt the novel coronavirus in March, the most vocally opposed citizens weren’t parents or employees, it was golfers.

In March the county mandated that golf courses, among a bevy of other nonessential recreational enterprises, needed to be shut down.

At the board of supervisors’ March 24 meeting, chairman Pete Vander Poel mentioned he had personally received a lot of calls from individuals asking why golf courses were closing in Tulare County but remained open in places like San Luis Obispo County. Exeter, River Island in Springville, and Ridge Creek in Dinuba and Valley Oak in Visalia had all been closed.

“Why are we not allowing golfing as an important recreational option to get out is what they are asking,” Vander Poel said. “There is an inconsistent landscape and I just want to provide some clarity.”

Public health officer Dr. Karen Haught said at the time that the only way the county could survive an outbreak without calamity was to continue to minimize gatherings outside of household units.

“I think everyone agrees that golf courses are not part of essential services,” Haught said.

But as of last week, golf courses were allowed to reopen with some slight modifications. And it could not have come soon enough. The Visalia Country Club opened on Wednesday, May 6 and did away with public contact items like ball washers and rakes.

“We’ve essentially created a no contact golf course,” Scott Stubbs, director and general manager of golf, said.

The club is limiting contact as well by limiting one golfer per cart, unless they are family. Stubbs said that clubhouse staff can tell which members are family because unlike public courses, their clientele are members. As well, the club has extended the time between tee-times from 10 minutes to 15 minutes. Stubbs said that will hopefully keep groups at a safe distance while playing on the course.

The country club’s kitchen continued to operate though the course was closed, by offering pick up orders. And they will continue to do so now that the course is open.

“We’ve actually been lucky that we were able to provide the food service,” Stubbs said.

Because the club is not a public course they perhaps weathered the storm better than other golf courses in the area and state. Stubbs said that they continued to receive membership dues as a form of revenue. And while they were not able to seat guests, the club still took food orders on Easter Sunday that landed them a decent uptick in cash flow.

The official shutdown of golf courses lasted just over six weeks, and while the club still managed to come out okay the wait made golfers and staff antsy.

“It seemed like an eternity to be honest,” Stubbs said.

The Visalia Country Club is not the only golf course reopening. Valley Oaks Golf Course announced they were reopening on Tuesday May 5.

“We have implemented a series of increased sanitary and cleaning standards in order to minimize guest’s and employee’s exposure to the COVID19 virus,” the course stated on their web site.

Valley Oak’s measures are similar to Visalia Country Clubs, and listed on their site. They include:

  • Check-in for golf will be in a designated space limited to one guest at a time
  • Golf carts will be limited to one rider per golf cart (no additional fees will apply)
  • We ask that all guests pay with credit card (no cash)
  • The driving range has been reduced to 50% capacity
  • Doors will be propped open to avoid touch points
  • Ball washers have been removed from the golf course to reduce touch points
  • Rakes have been removed from the golf course bunkers to reduce touch points (play as ground under repair)
  • The cups have been raised above ground level and flag sticks are to remain in place to avoid touch points
  • Cleaning of high touch points has been increased to 4 to 6 times per day
  • Employees at point of sale stations wear gloves and masks
  • All employees have received additional training on sanitary standards

Valley Oaks added that they would like golfers to mind the guidelines for risk of another spread of the novel coronavirus.

“Violations could result in the closing of the golf course. Any customer not following the rules will be asked to leave the course immediately,” the course stated.

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