As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, golf courses across the area have been forced to close to help ensure social distancing protocol … if they’re located in Pennsylvania, that is.
As part of Governor Tom Wolf’s orders in recent weeks to close “non-essential” businesses, golf courses around the Keystone State have been shuttered just as their seasons were just about to begin. Take a 20-minute drive north out of Bradford and into New York, though, and the story is different. Courses in the Empire State have been able to remain open, so long as safety protocols — no rakes in sand traps, no clubhouse access, etc. — are in place.
The way New York has handled things is something that Pine Acres president C.J. Mackey feels could work in Pennsylvania.
“I absolutely feel (safety measures) could work in Pennsylvania. I can appreciate what Governor Wolf is trying to do with his closures and understand the positive effect of social distancing,” he said. “However, very simple safeguards can be put in place at golf courses that accomplishes these goals while simultaneously allowing people to get out and get exercise, which is actively encouraged. I wish Governor Wolf would reconsider his position on golf courses.”
THAT SAID, circumstances across local New York golf clubs vary. According to the Olean Times Herald’s Chuck Pollock, not all courses in Cattaraugus County chose to stay open.
Elkdale Country Club in Salamanca is closed until the pandemic ends while St. Bonaventure postponed its season start until May 1, and that date is only tentative.
Meanwhile, Ellicottville’s Holiday Valley, Wellsville and Franklinville’s Ischua Valley country clubs are on hold, while other courses are in the same limbo. Among those open are Birch Run and the Bartlett Country Club.
With the closures in Pennsylvania, local clubs are left bracing for potential revenue losses — though how much remains to be seen. The season did begin on Wednesday, but play doesn’t pick up in earnest until about May, according to Mackey and Pennhills golf pro Jake Northrup.
“It’s hard to say what the financial impact might be at this point,” Mackey said. “April can be a tough month for us anyway because the weather is so unpredictable. Regardless, we are currently applying for government assistance to get ahead of any potential losses. We will also double our efforts once we are allowed to open to make up any revenue shortfall.”
Northrup said the hardest thing for Pennhills right now is setting up any sort of calendar or schedule.
“We can’t really make decisions right now. We’re just hoping for the best and planning for the worst,” he said.
NORTHRUP added that as the situation changes, so will Pennhills in how it handles things.
“It’s unfortunate that we can’t open up yet, but whatever we can do, we’ll do it,” he said. “If we can allow walking (later on), that’s when we’ll allow it. When we can allow carts, we’ll roll out carts. We’ll take every precaution we can and figure it out as we go. We just have to be conscious.”
And, Northrup mentioned, Pennhills could potentially extend its season past the usual closing date and hold scheduled events into October or November, if need be.
So far, both Mackey and Northrup report the membership levels at their respective clubs have yet to take a hit.
Mackey indicated Pine Acres gets new memberships in waves, typically at the end of the previous season, when the course itself opens up and weather clears, and then when golf leagues start.
“UNTIL WE reach that point in the year, we won’t really know,” he said. “With that being said, before COVID-19 put everything on hold, we were actually seeing a huge spike in membership, with 155 members already paid, 26 of them new members.”
Citing amenities that will open once the outbreak ends, such as a new grill room, social memberships as well as a heated pool, Northrup noted that Pennhills is trying to make its membership as worthwhile as possible, and that existing membership has remained steady.
“Really, once everything gets going, and I’m hoping it does, things will be really good,” he said. “Our existing membership has stuck with us, and we’ll take care of them and do everything we can to make their member experience great.”
In the meantime, course maintenance is allowed to continue, so both Pine Acres and Pennhills are maintaining their grounds.
“We are permitted to do maintenance on the course, so we plan to be ready to go once we are given permission to open,” Mackey said.
Added Northrup, “We are able to make sure the golf course is in good shape; that’s part of the essential work. So we’re able to get out and take care of the grounds. The golf course will be pure once we’re able to get going … it will still be a great product this spring.”