Golf Bucks County

By Bob Oliver

Middletown Country Club

Middletown is a compact 80 acres of challenging golf, with rolling hills and large specimen trees that have watched many golfers travel its fairways over time. It has retained its old time feel with tees and greens in close proximity, allowing golfers to walk the course if they choose.

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Golf coping in pandemic

Written by Bob Oliver on .

 

When the golf world looks back at the year 2020, people will nudge each other and tell their story of Golf in the turbulent times of “The Pandemic.”

COVID-19. The treacherous strain of influenza which effectively shut down most of the country and most of the world. Words like quarantine, sequester, PPE, face masks and the popular social distancing became regular inserts into one’s vocabulary.  Golf was not immune to the disease, as the sport was effectively shut down in about one-half of the country’s states with fears of spreading the disease.
 
Annual golf safaris from the Northeast United States to the south were cancelled; jaunts to play that special set of Irish or Scottish courses were postponed as states spoke of quarantines and were color coded, as in red, yellow and green and everywhere in between.
 
The PGA Tour halted its schedule before reopening without spectators. The LPGA, more of a world tour, was on the shelf even longer.  The long-running ShopRite LPGA Classic, a true opening of summer tradition, was moved to fall dates on the LPGA schedule.
 
Abnormal became the new normal as state governors each dealt with the pandemic in a way which suited their respective state. Heck, some golfers were issued summonses for crossing state lines to play the game outside of their home state confines.
 
At one point each of the states surrounding Pennsylvania saw its golf courses shuttered for play. Nearby Delaware did remain open for play – for a bit. In Virginia, most courses never closed their doors and operated business as usual, installing governmental recommendations.
 
At Frog Hollow Golf Club in Middletown, Delaware, a land office business greeted General Manager Patrick Keefe, PGA, upon reopening its operation to the public while nearby states were closed.
 
“The weather was good and people had a pent-up desire to play,” explained Keefe, a Neshaminy High School graduate in Bucks County, Pa. “We installed numerous procedures to ensure social distancing, like extending tee times, having touch free flagsticks and plastic inserts in the cups, having a single player in each motorized cart, going cashless and do forth. As you might guess, we had many ‘dos and don’ts’ questions, had some trial and error, but we were with the program so to speak.”
 
Then in early April came a fax from the Governor’s office. Play would be restricted to Delaware residents only. “Our parking lot had cars from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland,” said Keefe. “That stopped immediately. We (Delaware) were no longer a respite for area players looking for a drive friendly place to play, only Delaware residents.
 
It seemed forever, but courses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Maryland did receive approval to reopen their fairways, greens and, well rough and hazards, to golfers. While tournament golf was stifled, actual play was open within states and across state lines.
 
“Since reopening our phones have been ringing off the hook,” commented Jim Bogan, General Manager of Bensalem Township (Pa.) Country Club. “Of course, we committed to doing our best at installing procedures to mirror the Governor’s requests, from social distancing, to wearing masks in common areas and inside, extending time between tee times and constant cleaning of our carts. When the bans were lifted our tee sheet was full.”
 
Bogan smiled when asked about the COVID crisis. “It’s amazing, our business had never had such a situation,” and Bogan has a wealth of experience to draw on, having assumed the head golf professional position at Bensalem in 1971. “We’ve had to deal with economic issues over the years, with growing the game and so forth. But the pandemic was a different animal. There was concern and confusion as we dealt with the issues of safety.
 
If there was a silver lining to the shutdown, the Dean of area golf pros found it. “On the plus side,” said Bogan, “our course exited winter in good condition.  The winter was kind to us, relatively mild, and (superintendent) Jim Stauring did an outstanding job of keeping the course in shape and when we reopened players seemed pleased about the conditions.”
 
The jury is out on how and how long and to what extent the pandemic will affect the region in the future, at this point in time golf courses are open and golfers are playing the game they love. Conditions are good – oh, a little rain is always good for golf courses in the summer and play is brisk. While things are not back to the way things used to be considered normal the new normal is working.
 
“That’s a great point,” stated Tom Sullivan of McCullough’s Emerald Links in Egg Harbor Township, New Jersey. “Players understand the need for safety, and readily comply with the wearing of masks inside and social distancing and all the other precautions we’ve made. They are with the program. Our course is in fine shape, we’re truly open for business, and we welcome all to play.”
 
A recent visit confirmed Sullivan’s point, as the Stephen Kay designed layout – crafted in the Irish-Scottish tradition – was in superb condition. Challenges awaited, as did the early afternoon winds that generally pick up and befuddle club selection.
 
Hopes are the worst of the Coronavirus has occurred, but there is always concern about a new virus which can evolve down the road.  This adds a little to the confusion or uncertainty surrounding best practices, as course management does not want to loosen restrictions only to put them back in a few weeks later.
 
All courses contacted supported a walking game, but understand carts are an integral part of the public game.  Thus, the care and cleansing of the motorized cart is imperative, which may put pressure on getting a cart needed on the first tee cleaned in a timely manner.  All said, safety would not be reduced in an effort to push players on to the course.
 
Voluntary player compliance, as well as common sense, is imperative as well.  For instance, changing into golf shoes is easy at one’s automobile.  Prohibiting non-family guests to ride along for the heck of it. And so forth. No fuss.  No muss. No hassle. And it’s just safer.

“We can’t be everywhere at all times,” added Bogan. “Players still need to know and understand not to cluster together, wear a mask when need be, pick up only their own tees and clubs and not others.  That’s just common sense.”
 
Sullivan agrees with the assessments of his peers. “Common sense is just so important. In the ‘New Normal’ one has to be aware not only of their tee time but also who is around them and why.  Be aware of their own situation, their temperature, their body. Coming to the course less than healthy is not an option. So while we are happy to be open for play, we remind ourselves daily of the care required to ensure we comply with state oversight.”
 
It’s a long road back, but the road is open for business.
 
“The good news is we have been open for a while and the course is in its usual great shape,” explained Shore Gate professional Chris Smith. “We are doing everything we can to be a safe respite for the public, and believe we can do that while providing a wonderful experience.  Obviously, we are a “shore” course, and we get a lot of out of town visitors on vacation, so we are doing our best to make this all work.”
 
At Maryland’s P.B. Dye Golf Club safety continues to rule, but head professional Jack Kelley says everything is under constant review and analysis. “We truly are staying in an up to the moment, day-by-day operational standard,” said the pro, who like his peers says business since reopening is booming.
 
“We recognize the uncertainty of everything, the science has to rule. We have done our best, but we are not over the hump. We are pleased to be open and to offer a golf experience, but we must be diligent in all our efforts to combat the virus.”
 
These days golf course operators are not only worried about promoting the game, filling tee sheets, providing food and beverage and so forth, but of most importance is acknowledging that the ability to remain open depends on some things out of their control.  As for the procedures under their control, they understand and are doing their best to find the happy medium of playing golf in a safe ‘green’ environment.
 
Of immediate concern is that while keeping water coolers shuttered on the golf course safely keeps players from touching implements, heat and humidity necessitates the intake of water being of utmost importance. Thus many are offering bottled water at check it, or ensuring a beverage cart is consistently making its rounds.
 
As mentioned by several of the course representatives, the challenges of dealing with the pandemic means safety is job one. Each could respond with vigor on how the new normal is not merely taking a green’s fee and pointing to the first tee.  Patrons are reminded on social distancing and measures in place to promote safety in a green period of time, and are constantly reminded of such. But they also want golfers to have fun!
 
Clearly, it’s now the New Normal -- as what has been known as normal operations are old news. It’s a time to ensure safety, being nimble and aware.  Clearly, it’s a time to play golf…. safely.  
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COVID-19: Pay attention....or...

Written by Bob Oliver on .

I'm not pontificating.  Just sayin.

 

We all know that the Pandemic is real, that COVID-19 is serious, and that our "Normal" is now the "New Normal".

 

Golf courses in Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Maryland, as well as about 30 other states, were closed for months as Governor's developed game plans on how to deal with the disease. To reopen, golf course management teams followed federal and state guidelines to have the ability to reopen their operations to play golf.

 

Some went to non-touch payments, requiring pre-payments for green's fees, no cash exchanged, limited food and beverage services, masks inside buildings, cleaning of golf carts after usage.  Golfers were greeted with immovable golf flags with plastic inserts in cups, single players in carts, and after the round no handshakes.  

 

We were told to social distance, to be smart, and to do everything in our power to keep players safe.  Without saying, it was also a test of sorts as to whether golf clubs could continue to remain open for pay in these trying times. 

 

Which brings us to a point that came to the forefront on my drive for playing 1,000 golf courses. I'm over 900 played, and always looking for a new challenge on the road to 1,000.

 

There I was, playing at an unnamed layout, with two guys. We were joined together at the first tee, and they seemed to be fun, normal guys.  Expected was a nice day on the golf course. Unexpected was the political dialogue surrounding the pandemic. 

 

You see, these two guys insisted on removing the flagstick when on the putting surface.

 

"I hate leaving the flagstick in," said one. 

 

"It's not golf if you leave flagstick in on putts," said the other.

 

I was outnumbered and flabbergasted and, well, concerned. 

 

You see, we know there are little things that can mushroom into problematic situations. I mentioned to the two that the course pro said not to remove flagsticks upon arriving at the course. These two said who cares, bringing the Bill of Rights into the conversation. 

 

While I'm no scholar, I don't thing the Founding Fathers had such thoughts in mind when they were putting the document together. I mentioned that non-complience with the stated guidelines could lead to a disabling of playing privileges for others.

 

They could care less, as they were in the "it doesn't pertain to me" mood. 

 

Seeing reason would lose as an argument, I went along with their protest but didn't touch the flagstick at any time. To tick them off, I'd ask them to put the flagstick back in when I was putting, which infuriated them to no end. So much so they'd put first, out of turn, in sequence before I could putt. 

 

At least I got to see how the putts were breaking, but it was unnerving hearing them, after putting out, walking to their carts while I was still working on the putting green.

 

Oh well. Small price and point to pay.  Bottom line. Be aware of the COVID guidelines because you know that, if these are "broken" government types could pull the plus and nobody will be allowed to play golf.

 

Just sayin,  

Golfers Beware - "The Law" Watching

Written by Bob Oliver on .

We've been keeping you apprised of where golf is being played and where it's prohibited. And while 28 states are allowing play, several are not allowing play of non-residents in his time of COVID-19. 

Yesterday three Massachusetts residents were issued summons which could result in 90 days in the pokey for playing in Rhode Island at the Meadowbrook Golf Course.   Police said the three were in the state for a non-recognized work purpose. 

For Bucks County golfers, the closest state allowing golf is Delaware, which like Rhode Island clamped down on non-resident play Monday. While courses are open for business, that business must come only from residents of the state.

"We had been getting about 30 percent of our play from New Jersey, Pennsylvania and Maryland residents, but no more," explained PGA professional and course operator at Frog Hollow, Patrick Keefe. '

The 1978 grad of Neshaminy High School had been seeing lots of old friends from the Keystone state in recent weeks. "The directive is pretty clear, and we've had troopers visit."

Apparently it won't be long before state line crossing golfers will be sharing cells with sharing jail cells wtih bank robbers and arsonists said one wag.

Keefe did assure that social distancing, spacing of tee times, flagsticks are not to be touched and similar precautions are being taken.

CHIP SHOTS: Keefe played for coaches Dick Chubb and WIlliam Smith while playing for the Redskins. He's a former head pro at Inniscrone...Frog Hollow is a nice residential course in Middletown, Delaware, which challenges all level of player....From the optimsm department, the LPGA has announced a tentative schedule of events assuming the season restarts. Aronimink, in Newtown Square, will host the KPMG Women's PGA Championship June 25-28, while the ShopRite LPGA Championship will be held at Seaview (Bay) Golf Club July 31 through August 2. Of course, this is subject to the COVID-19 problem being stopped. 

 

Golf takes a hit from COVID-19

Written by Bob Oliver on .

 

The embargo on golf by Governor Wolf in response to the COVID-19 situation has shuttered Keystone State courses for the last two weeks.

New York, New Jersey, Maryland and Pennsylvania as well as 17 other states have prohibited play at golf courses in their state according to the National Golf Foundation.  Some other states have partial restrictions, while 28 states allow golf to be played.  It's a very fluid situation, and changes are being made on a daily basis. 

Delaware has allowed its courses to remain open. The state open for play that is closest to Bucks County golfers, however, had a change this afternoon announced from the governor's office. Delaware courses will no longer be able to book tee times from non-Delaware residents. It is unclear how walk ups or those without "papers" will be handled. 

The NGF survey of more than 1000 member courses found that as of March 27, 2020, approximately 74 percent of the nation's golf courses remain open.  That's of little solace to Bucks County golfers who are hours away from places to play. 

The southern half of the United States allow play for the most part as even hard-hit COVID-19 states like Louisiana have not formally closed courses on a statewide basis. Many counties in Ohio continue to allow play. The Arizona governor today proclaimed golf “essential” and continues to allow play   

Having said that, golf courses in 87 percent of facilities have closed/restricted its inside dining room areas, and nearly 30% have closed access to clubhouse facilities. A quarter of those surveyed have closed or restricted access to pro shop.

The NGF survey found that 65 percent of club operators described the COVID-19 problem as having a significant effect or more on its operations. 

Surprisingly the winter months had been pointing to a superb resurgence in the game. Rounds played increased dramatically year-over-year in the months of January and February.  

Golfers who were considering purchase of new equipment have put such purchases on hold, according to the NGF survey as they monitor the virus. 

For Bucks County golfers, hunker down. There's no meaningful golf in the near future, but with some luck it won't be long before you'll be back on the course. In the meantime remember the social distancing recommendations from the government. Always practice good hygiene such as washing hands, refraining from touching face and disinfect items and surfaces as much as possible. 

Be safe, be careful and think about a future return to normalcy. 

CHIP SHOTS:  While Arizona Governor Doug Ducey issued a "stay at home" order, he includes golf as an "Essential service" exemption. "We do not want people to feel trapped or isolated in their homes," explained the governor. The Cactus women's tour continues competition. This is the tour LPGA star Anna Nordqvist won on two weeks ago....Speaking off the record, a source close to the LPGA's ShopRite Classic says it is "highly doubtful" the 2020 event will be held. in late May. Time will tell...A petition to reopen some courses in New Jersey is in the process of being developed in hopes Gov. Murphy loosens restrictions on play.    

Coping without golf

Written by Bob Oliver on .

 

These are obviously trying times.  The COVID-19 pandemic has taken its toll, and people are worried about its fangs.  Rightfully so.

Yet in a time of business shutdowns, social distancing, quarantines and such there are several givens in preventions.  Like washing hands endlessly and not rubbing your face.  Avoiding discretionary travel. Work from home if possible.

Golfers lament time away from the course, playing the game they love, as governors of Pennsylvania, New Jersey, New York and Maryland have shuttered golf courses. At last count 21 states have closed golf courses, while 28 states remain open for play.  One state, Alaska, is closed but snow has a way of keeping players off the course.

Linfield National's Rob Kloeckner, a Neshaminy grad, has petitioned the state for a waiver to no avail.  So have three course operators from the Pittsburgh area.   

Delaware Courses are open for the most part, with social distancing guidelines (one to a cart, or no motorized carts at all, locked pro shops, no toughing flagsticks, etc.) in place as safety is important. One owner operator in Delaware said business has been brisk with the closure of courses in neighboring states. 

Near all courses are being maintained as the closures have not ended caring for course work, so once a handle on the virus is fixed openings could come fast, especially in less populated areas. 

Patience required.

If you want to keep the muscles working, the Mad Golfer in Southampton is open for self service practice. 

For my golf fix I recently watched a replay of the 2019 Masters Tournament. Spoiler alert, a guy in a red shirt did pretty well.