“Golf has got to be one of the safest sports under current circumstances,” said Ken Kirchhofer, operations director for the Atascocita Golf Club.
He is quoting Dr. Charles G. Prober, a professor of pediatrics, microbiology and immunology at Stanford University’s School of Medicine.
“We’ve been very fortunate to be open with restrictions,” Kirchhofer said. “We’ve literally changed policies daily as Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Texas Gov. Greg Abbott have made adjustments to our operational procedures.”
Kirchhofer’s purpose, of course, is to keep golfers and staff safe and secure during these precarious times.
All tournaments are canceled through June. Atascocita’s 27 holes are open for play – with restrictions. The putting green and driving range are open. No rakes for bunkers. No water coolers. No ball washers. The building remains closed but Kirchhofer has opened a “pop-up” mobile pro shop.
“Golfers can use carts. We sanitize before and after play. They must ride separately unless they cohabitate,” he said. “Golfers can walk, caddies are not allowed.”
Masks are up to the discretion of each golfer but Prober, the immunology professor that Kirchhofer quoted, recommends golfers play uncovered.
“Masks can do more harm than good because we frequently adjust them,” he told Golf Digest. “A golfer has hands on their face more, including their eyes and nose.”
Kirchhofer asks golfers to maintain social distancing.
“Leave 12 feet of space between each other. Don’t gather in groups on the course, tee boxes, practice greens or any other area,” he said.
The Oakhurst Golf Club follows similar procedures, according to David Preisler, general manager and director of golf for Oakhurst.
“We follow The PGA of America Best Practices,” said Preisler.
The course, putting green and driving range are open as are the golf shop, restaurant and verandah with limited seating. No water coolers on the course. Golfers can use the club’s beverage cart and grill service window for food and beverages. Everything is sanitized – golf carts, counters, writing pens, door handles and restrooms. Family members share carts while all others have single carts.
Despite COVID-19’s dark cloud, Preisler sees a silver lining.
“This is the correction the golf industry needed,” he said. “Golf rounds had been decreasing. Golf owners and companies were struggling. Golf courses were closing, being turned into housing developments.”
“Recently, though, we’ve seen a spike in rounds of golf played and more beginner golfers coming out to the club,” Preisler said. “More families are playing together. Golfers are buying memberships!”
Golf is an outdoor recreation sport, great exercise and stress reliever being outdoors and breathing fresh air, he said.
The Clubs of Kingwood also never fully closed, said Kelly Paull, the Clubs of Kingwood member relations director.
“Temperatures are taken of all employees. Masks are used if employees are within 6 feet of customers. We’re using gloves and implemented stringent sanitation guidelines,” said Paull. “In golf we have the 10- to 12-foot rule, over and above the 6-foot recommendation. Golfers can walk, of course, and we only allow ‘same family’ in the cart, otherwise, it is single riders. And we’re sanitizing carts between uses.”
Golfer Chad Alexander praises the Clubs of Kingwood for their “… excellent job allowing golfers to continue playing golf in a safe environment.”
“I feel very safe with reduced seating and staff wearing proper gear,” Alexander said. “It’s great to be outside and easy to play golf and keep the social distances. If I could only get rid of that slice!”
While COVID-19 persists, Lake Houston’s community spirit endures.
Atascocita Golf Club partnered with local restaurant, On the Rox Atascocita, providing more than 80 lunches to health-care workers at Rosemont Senior Living Center at Kingwood Glen, a mile from the Atascocita Club.
The Clubs of Kingwood provides meals at no charge every weekend for furloughed employees and implemented many virtual events for members – wine tastings, flower-arranging class, pro-trick shots and virtual meetings with renowned golf pros such as Annika Sorenstam.
“We have been blessed to be open so that our employees continue to work and golfers enjoy the game on our beautiful course,” Kirchhofer said. “My advice is to be smart about it, but go play and have fun.”
The Oakhurst Club’s Preisler agrees, “Just keep golfin’.”