July 9, 2020

Communication and Collaboration Were Pivotal Aspects of Golf’s Return

By Vinnie Manginelli, PGA

A lot has been written about the changes that golf courses and ranges are implementing to either reopen their doors and welcome golfers back to their facilities, or to continue operations with new protocols in place. As the pandemic continues, and we reacclimate ourselves to various aspects of life that were recently put on hold, communication has arguably become the most important facet of conducting business in our current time.

When uncertainty was at its peak, the collaborative efforts of the many allied golf organizations helped guide golf facilities in implementing new operating procedures.

Golf courses disseminate information to their members and customers, while teachers and coaches provide all the guidelines that students need to know prior to re-engaging on the lesson tee. As a member of the Northeastern New York Section of the PGA, I came to appreciate our weekly Google Meet information sessions. Hosted by our Executive Director, Tracie Warner and Section President, Mike Behan, the meetings would last about an hour and served to share information about what courses and clubs were permitted to do, and what they could not – information often decreed by the state and Governor Andrew Cuomo. What’s the status of golf carts? Are golf course employees essential? What best practices are pros following in conducting online lessons through Facetime and Zoom and is it permissible to host face to face instruction? The communication and sharing of ideas were important and got us through three months of the unknown. With operations reopened under new stipulations and measures, communication continues via emails, newsletters, and the occasional virtual town hall meeting.

Many courses, like McGregor Links Country Club, in Wilton, New York, have reopened with no flagsticks on the practice greens – others opened with no holes altogether.

In Colorado, the Colorado Golf Coalition is comprised of the Colorado PGA Section, Colorado Golf Association, the Rocky Mountain Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, and the Mile High Chapter of the Club Management Association of America. During the COVID-19 pandemic, these governing bodies have not only been meeting regularly to discuss the crisis, and golf’s place during this time, but they have also been keeping the lines of communication open with their constituents and members, the golf professionals, facility owners, and general managers who were desperate to get back to business.

Courses like Foothills Golf Course, in Denver, Colorado, are placing an increased focus on the cleaning and sterilization of range balls. Some facilities opened their ranges with irons-only stipulations to ensure golfers would not have to touch the golf balls at all.

Sharing the latest news, information, and data online through the Colorado Golf Association’s website, these groups continue to help shape vital business decisions for their members, while guiding the golf industry in Colorado through this difficult time. By inviting local officials, including the head of the Boulder County Health Department onto their Zoom calls, they have been able to attain pertinent information first-hand and share it with their professionals. With the daily operations of golf facilities hinging on these facts and data, the collaboration from the four governing bodies often dictated how facilities conducted business. The Coalition makes it clear on the website that they are not speaking for any individual course and their alliance is there to disseminate information on a regular basis.

Studies show that sunlight helps quell the coronavirus on such objects as range baskets.

Further west, similar work is being done by the California Alliance for Golf. This group is made up of the Northern and Southern California Golf Associations, the Northern and Southern California PGA Sections, the California Golf Course Owners Association, the California Chapter of the Golf Course Superintendent’s Association of America, the Golden State Chapter of the Club Management Association of America, the American Society of Golf Course Architects, American Golf, and various other groups.

The California Alliance for Golf was a leader in providing valuable information regarding COVID-19 recovery efforts and golf facility efforts to get back to business. “California is a huge state, and our governor decided to handle this crisis in a federated fashion. Instead of a one size fits all, [he] decided to issue a set of minimum standards that all fifty-eight counties would have to follow,” said Craig Kessler, Director, Governmental Affairs for the Southern California Golf Association. In addition to the base set of rules put forth by state officials, each county would also respond with its requirements based on local needs. Some counties had rather draconian orders, while others were more relaxed, essentially dictated by the volume of individuals who would usually frequent the facilities. Kessler stressed the fact that among California’s fifty-eight counties, some have very small populations, while others, like Los Angeles County, have millions of residents.

Craig Kessler of the Southern California Golf Association

According to Heidi Richardson, PGA Professional and instructor at Encinitas Ranch Golf Course in Encinitas, California, Kessler was a “guiding light for everyone”. Kessler was one cog in a collaboration of golf professionals and government officials that helped keep a focus on golf, even when the pandemic was at its worst and the deaths were increasing nationwide.

Vast short game areas, like the one at Encinitas Ranch Golf Course, allow for multiple players to practice while maintaining distancing standards.

“Recreational golf, played a certain way with a lot of restrictions, was perfectly consistent with any and all of the orders, both local and state,” Kessler added. During the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic, public officials shut many golf courses down; Kessler, however, advised golf industry leaders to be patient and be ready to get back to business. “We won the argument, but weren’t going to sustain it in a position of panic,” he stated.

Golf was the first thing to reopen in nine of southern California’s ten countries. “Complicating things was that the rules adopted in each of these counties were different. So, you could literally travel eight, ten, twelve miles, and all the rules governing the operation of golf courses were radically different,” Kessler declared. This necessitated the need for vast communication and collaboration, dealing with the politics of it all.

With visuals such as this one, taken by Heidi Richardson, PGA, golfers are willing to adapt to health and wellness protocols to continue to enjoy the game they love.

I asked Kessler how he communicated with the various golf professionals, facility owners, and general managers in counties under his “jurisdiction”, with daily press conferences being held and information changing almost every day. His response was simple, “As best as we could.” He indicated that this being the first pandemic in our lifetimes that shut down the economy, everyone was pretty much flying blind. His guidance and the collaboration of the groups within the California Alliance for Golf helped facilitate as smooth a reopening as could be expected.

Doing the right thing may help ensure no further golf course closures amid a potential second wave of the virus.

Kessler said he envied his colleagues in various states across the country who were able to form a collation and speak with the governor’s office regarding any updates to rules and measures to be taken. Where these allied groups in other states could deal directly with the decision-makers, the California Alliance for Golf had to work with the many local officials on a county by county basis. He concluded our conversation with the following statement, “No one expected this moment, but the fact that the California golf community resolved some years ago to start working in close collaboration on all kinds of levels really paid off during this crisis.”

Needless to say, whatever level of communication was needed, collaborative efforts like the ones cited here helped PGA Professionals, golf course and range owners, and facility managers to make educated decisions about what was best for their businesses, their customers, and their employees. With golf back in full swing, health and wellness protocols have been implemented at facilities nationwide. It’s up to all of us, as golfers, to abide by the rules put in place and avoid the continued spread of the virus and a potential second wave of the COVID-19 virus.