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Spokane city, county golf courses anticipating two-week closure due to coronavirus concerns

UPDATED: Tue., March 24, 2020

Jason Morrell of Green Bluff hit the driving range at Links Golf Club in Post Falls on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Jason Morrell of Green Bluff hit the driving range at Links Golf Club in Post Falls on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

Phones were ringing nonstop Tuesday inside pro shops at Spokane city and county golf courses.

Customers wanted to know if they could squeeze in one more round before Gov. Jay Inslee’s directive goes into effect for nonessential businesses to close by midnight Wednesday.

“I could see us being open from 9 to noon and then cutting off tee times so everyone would be done by 4:30,” said MeadowWood pro Bob Scott, who had 50 golfers on the course on a chilly Tuesday that included periods of sunshine, rain and graupel. “Then it’d take an hour or so to button things up.”

The four city and three county golf courses are expecting to be shut down for at least two weeks under Inslee’s order as the state tries to slow the spread of the coronavirus pandemic.

“That’s how we’re interpreting it at this point,” city golf manager Mark Poirier said. “We’re trying to confirm our interpretation with the state.”

“It’s kind of weird because you’re gearing up with merchandise and food, but then you shut down,” Qualchan pro Mark Gardner said. “It’s just something we have to accept and help out.

“We’re fortunate in the whole scheme of things because a lot of businesses are going to struggle more than we are.”

Six city and county courses were open last weekend – Indian Canyon was set to open Wednesday – under new safety protocols based on Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommendations.

Among the precautions:

  • Smaller groups and carts with single riders.
  • Tee times at 10-minute intervals to decrease congestion.
  • Cleaning high-touch areas and clubhouse restrooms every two hours, as well as cleaning carts between rentals.
  • Keeping 6 feet between customers at check-in.
  • Gimmie putts within 3 feet to discourage players from putting their hand in the cup.

A combination of sunny weather and golfers eager to enjoy the outdoors kept courses busy.

“Everybody was extremely positive and said, ‘Thank you,’ that we were open,” Hangman Valley pro Steve Nelke said. “We were sanitizing everything as best we could.”

Several North Idaho courses, roughly a 20-minute drive for Spokane Valley residents, should see an increase in business from Washington-based golfers looking for playing options.

“No question, (golfers) have already told us that,” Gardner said. “That’s the thing with the shutdown, we have more of an attachment with North Idaho than we do with Seattle. With North Idaho still operating, it a little bit defeats the purpose of what Inslee wants us to do.”

Tim Morton, the pro at The Highlands in Post Falls, said the course has added safety measures, including removing rakes from bunkers and sanitizing carts and cart keys. Cups have plastic foam raised a couple of inches above ground to keep people from touching flags and reaching into the hole.

“We’re trying to follow all the protocols we can,” Morton said Monday. “I think people are just happy to be out playing. When we tell them about the flags, they say it’s their first or second time out and they don’t care. They just wanted to get outside.”

Scott, 60, sees both sides of the matter: the business of running a golf course and the importance of doing everything possible for the public’s health.

He underwent chemotherapy and radiation treatments for a brain tumor in 2015.

“It’s pretty obvious the only way to slow this (virus) down is everyone sitting still for two weeks, figuring out who has it and we probably still won’t find out on everyone,” he said. “But it would be good to get that bell curve going in the other direction.”

Scott recently attended the West Coast Conference Tournament in Las Vegas and returned home with a cough. Out of concern for his employees, Scott went to the drive-thru coronavirus screening at the Spokane County Fair and Expo Center parking lot.

“I’m thinking I have to be a perfect candidate to get tested,” he said. “They took my vitals and gave me a clean bill of health and sent me on my way. I totally understand and it made me feel better. I’ve taken my temperature every day since and it’s been fine.”

Spokane courses will feel a financial impact from Inslee’s mandate, but area pros understood why the move was necessary.

“This isn’t really much of a sacrifice to ask,” Indian Canyon pro Doug Phares said. “It’s inconvenient, but gosh, if we just do our part and do the best we can, hopefully it’s shorter. Others are impacted more than me.”

So what does a golf pro do for the next two weeks?

“Good question,” Gardner said. “I’m afraid to see the list my wife has for me when I get home.”

Dale Meyer adheres to the one person only in golf carts while golfing at Links Golf Club in Post Falls on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)
Dale Meyer adheres to the one person only in golf carts while golfing at Links Golf Club in Post Falls on Wednesday, March 18, 2020. (Kathy Plonka / The Spokesman-Review)

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