If anyone was curious how much golf was in demand after the coronavirus put the season on hold for more than a month, take it from Scott Pruden, the head PGA professional at Farmstead Golf and Country Club in Andover Township.
Minutes before Gov. Phil Murphy’s Thursday announcement that golf courses were permitted to reopen on Saturday, the tee time requests came flooding in.
“Literally, in an hour I missed 100 phone calls,” Pruden said. “It was kind of surreal. I could’ve booked that tee sheet probably five times over. It was overwhelming. It was just so fast.
“People were calling the shop about 20 minutes before the governor even came on. It was already out, the tweets started and people were calling me and I’m like, ‘I haven’t heard anything.’”
Golf course employees sprung into action when Murphy’s executive order was passed on Thursday, and less than 48 hours later the first swings were made statewide at 6 a.m. Saturday.
“It’s been a little difficult, but we’ve spent some longer days to get everything ready, get the carts ready and get the carts sanitized,” said Buddy Councilor, the director of golf at SkyView Golf Club in Sparta. “It’s exciting. We’ve been waiting for this for a while, so we’re willing to do whatever we had to do to get things going.”
It was a frenetic day and a half for staffs to reopen under a new set of guidelines outlined by Murphy.
In addition to each golf course sanitizing its golf carts regularly, it must limit tee times to two players and golf carts are restricted to one occupant (except for immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners).
Golf center buildings and pro shops were closed across the state, and tee times were required to be staggered 16 minutes apart.
Those stipulations pushed courses to less than half their normal capacity on Saturday, and the demand for tee times was high across the area. Neither Farmstead nor Ballyowen had any openings between 7 a.m. and 6 p.m. Councilor said he had to turn several walk-ons away.
“I think everybody was ready to play the golf courses, but to have it happen so fast, it was hard, it was really hard,” Pruden said. “My heart goes out to the people trying to book tee times and trying to go through the web.
“Even the web service was down because the web service is trying to get all of these golf courses up and running at the same time. Within an hour, everyone is probably calling the provider and trying to get their times posted. I know it was probably overwhelming on their end as it was for us.”
Out on the course, bunker rakes, water coolers and ball washers had to be removed. Courses were required to find a way to limit golfers from touching common surfaces, namely the cup, so Farmstead used shallow cups, while Crystal Springs’ six courses used elevated cups and foam around the flagstick.
“I think everybody kind of understood the process of keeping their six-foot social distancing,” said Mark Melillo, the director of golf at Ballyowen Golf Club, one of Crystal Springs’ six courses. “I pretty much saw every golfer today wearing masks on their way in and most people were understanding that golf was a little bit different on the golf course, not putting to a cup but putting to the foam around the flagstick.
“Our driving range and clubhouse was closed, and there was limitations on a lot of things that golfers have become accustomed to.”
Despite numerous new guidelines in place for golf courses to open in the state, all three golf course managers said that golfers were enthusiastic to be out playing and respectful of the policies put in place.
“It’s actually easier than I thought it was going to be with everyone coming in with the guidelines that the governor gave us,” Councilor said. “.... Everyone’s been good in keeping their distance. Everyone’s had their masks on and it seems like there’s really been no issues, to be honest.”
Pruden is hoping that obedience will remain, particularly with pleasant weather expected over the next few days, so courses can continue to get back to normal a little bit at a time.
“Is it the new norm? It’s different for a while, let’s put it that way,” Pruden said. “It’s going to be a big change for a little bit of time. We’re all on board the same way, we’ve all just have to do it the same way and just really be patient. It’s going to change.
“The norm will come back, maybe not to the full extent, but we’ll get back to our normal tee times hopefully and then get back to our groups of four on a steady basis. We just really have to be patient.”