LACONIA — Just how eager are golfers to get back to the game? Bob Bolduc said he has to actively police his course and shoo away people he finds on the course in violation of the governor’s stay-at-home order.
That’s why he’s looking forward to Monday, when golf courses around the state will be able to permit play, albeit with a long list of precautions to guard against the spread of COVID-19.
“People are gnawing at the bit – people will just go out and golf, they’ll sneak on. This way it gives them direction,” said Bolduc, founder of the nonprofit Bolduc Park golf and disc golf course on the Gilford-Laconia line.
There are a few things about the game play that will be different under this phased reopening. If the course rents carts, they can be used only by either individuals or by couples who live together. There will be no common-touch items, which means no ball-washing stations and no removing the flag from the hole. Cups will be modified so that balls can be easily removed without touching the cup or the flag, and players should keep a six-foot distance from each other – and that means no high-fives, even after the luckiest of shots.
The rest of the regulations will severely curtail the other side of the sport – that which takes place before tee-off and after the last hole. Clubhouses and locker rooms will only be open for restroom facilities, and even those will be subject to one-at-a-time policies. Pro shops will be closed, as will restaurants and bars, except for take-out or as otherwise prescribed under current food service rules. Other amenities, such as pools or spas, must remain closed, and golfers are instructed to remain in their vehicles until just before their tee time, and are expected to leave as soon as they’re done with their round.
“It’s taking the social aspect out of the game,” said Jay Polini, golf pro at Ridgewood Country Club in Moultonborough. “At least everyone gets to play.”
Well, not exactly everyone. During this phase of regulation, only New Hampshire residents or members of a given club will be able to play. Those who meet one of those two requirements will be greeted with excellent conditions.
This spring has been a good one for golf courses, which could have opened in early April. Closed due to the pandemic, grounds crews have instead used the time to repair cart paths, aerate fairways and mow greens.
“The facility is going to be in significantly better condition. We’ve had time to attack it, it will put is in a much better condition for the golfers,” said Polini, adding that he’ll be glad to see golfers at Ridgewood next week.
“It’s healthy, everybody needs to get outside and just live. It’s hard living in a box all the time,” Polini said.
Charles Wheeler, general manager at Laconia Country Club, said conditions there are similarly optimal.
“The course looks fantastic,” he said. Wheeler added that he thinks players will quickly adjust to the new rules: “I’m very optimistic. I think people just want to get out and play golf. Everyone understands that it’s a little bit different right now, but the golf course is open and ready for them to tee it up.”
Despite the fact that current restrictions will negate the social aspect of membership, Wheeler said he thinks that this year could actually be a good one for Laconia Country Club.
“We’ve actually seen an uptick in membership inquiries in the last seven days,” Wheeler said. “I’m excited about 2020, we’re going to turn this sucker around.”
That optimism is in short supply a few miles away, at Oak Hill Golf Course.
“I think it will be a challenging year financially,” co-owner Barbara Jenkins said. Her course, started by her parents and now owned by Jenkins and her husband, has always been a landing spots for spontaneous golfers.
“We have always been a very casual, come-when-you-want-to-play-golf, kind of place. With this situation, we have had to implement tee times. We’ve been in business since 1963, we’ve never done tee times. That whole preplanning is very different for us,” Jenkins said.
“I have set up a Google spreadsheet for now,” she explained. “Hopefully if it’s a temporary situation, it will suffice. If that goes on for a long time or I find it’s cumbersome, we will have to outlay money in order to subscribe to a service, which I hate to think about. I do hope it’s pretty temporary.”
Much of Oak Hill’s off-peak business is in leagues, she said, which tend to attract older golfers. Last year was a record in terms of league participation, and this year is kicking off with league membership markedly down, and she thinks concern about the virus is keeping golfers away.
Once summer gets underway, there’s another set of golfers that might also be kept away, unless the current restrictions are relaxed. “In July and August, transient players are the bulk of my business,” she said, referring to people vacationing from out-of-state. Those players couldn’t currently play. “I’m hoping it won’t take a chunk out of my business.”
At Bolduc Park, Bolduc said he expects the season to start slowly, but that those who can golf will likely play more rounds than they normally would.
“People are going to come and get used to it,” he said. “They’re out of school, they’re out of college, they’re out of work.”
And, he said, they’ll find that they feel better after each round.
“Get out and do something before people get stir crazy and do crazy things,” Bolduc said. “This is a way of releasing stress.”
Bolduc then had to end the interview on Friday so he could run off another die-hard rogue golfer trying to get in a few holes before the ban was officially lifted.
Tamworth resident Kent Hemingway said it couldn’t have been him giving Bolduc a headache, because the morning temperatures were still a little too chilly.
Hemingway said he would be golfing, “As soon as possible – as soon as the temperature goes into the 40s. I don’t play in the 30s anymore.”
Hemingway, a retired school superintendent, plans to do a lot of golfing. In fact, he has a goal of playing every course in the state. There are about 120 of them, including the public and private courses. “I’m working my way through that list,” he said.
After two months of quarantine, Hemingway said he has found that fresh air and exercise are an important part of his life.
“Outdoor activities are really good, all outdoor activities that can safely social distance should be going on,” he said. “I’ve been hiking wherever I can in authorized places. I’m playing tennis,” adding that he and his opponent wear gloves. “We’re riding bikes, we’ve been kayaking, and I’ll be playing golf. Because, in all of my estimations, those things are safe… Golf is appropriate for keeping socially distant. It’s a piece of our economy that we should be able to partake in.”
To contact Adam Drapcho, email AD@laconiadailysun.com.