“Golf is a tremendous individual sport with built-in social distancing”

“Golf is a tremendous individual sport with built-in social distancing”
Richard Humphreys
By Richard Humphreys

Several members of the American Society of Golf Course Architects (ASGCA) have provided their perspectives on the US golf industry and coronavirus.


Speaking via the ASGCA Twitter account, golf course architects outlined how golf clients and facilities are responding to the virus threat.


“I’ve tried to put myself in the shoes of club owners/operators,” said Jan Bel Jan. “We should be aware of and weigh government stances each day. In this uncertain time, we must still respect staff members, golfers and feelings about personal safety and economic security.


“As much as we know that playing golf and being outside is healthful, some government agencies may disagree on the grounds of protecting workforces. The same may be true for some clubs who want to assure they have staff who will return once the crisis is over.”


“The game has survived wars, recessions and even plagues,” said Forrest Richardson. “We can all agree the game is a reprieve from everyday troubles, so I think we need to look inward to see how it might help society at this point in time.


“We need to be safe, but we also need to keep people working so they are able to support their families. The best advice I can give now is to try your best to allow work to continue, but make sure you’re protecting everyone as it gets done.”


As governments implement social distancing measures to minimise the spread of Covid-19, golf course architects are finding alternative ways to communicate with members, clients and construction crews.


Fazio Design’s Tom Marzolf said: “We are switching to video member meetings and using GoToMeeting – a good site for meetings to look at drawings and talk through the computer. Fazio Design is still working. We are building four new courses this year and working on lots of renovations.”


Richardson is also using digital technologies for virtual meetings. “We had a nine-person meeting Tuesday and it has kept a project on schedule, avoided travel and allowed our client – the State of California – to adhere to their governor’s rules on in-person meetings.”


Some architects have been able to continue with site visits. Jeff Blume said: “I have many projects underway that are carrying forward. My clients that are under construction are moving ahead without delay so far. I’m starting a new small renovation in San Antonio in a couple of weeks and hoping to finish up a local job in the next six weeks.”


Many clubs are introducing new measures to keep people safe. Jason Straka added: “Fry/Straka Golf has a new remodel client that is going to disinfect carts and have them available for one person to drive around the course together for an on-site meeting. No meeting will take place within an enclosed space.


“Wadsworth Golf Construction was contacted by one of our mutual clients and asked if they were going to shut down construction. Wadsworth met and said since their construction is outside that they could keep good social distance, low risk to their employees.”


John LaFoy said: “From a construction standpoint, work continues on three of my current projects. Nothing is different than normal, except maybe dispensing of the handshakes.


“I recently referred a repeat client of mine to an ASGCA member architect who lives 20 minutes from the course needing attention, rather than me flying 700 miles to get to the course. It provides another architect work and saves the client money on expenses.”


Michael Hurdzan highlighted the ongoing maintenance requirements: “A golf course is a living organism that must be continually fed, watered, groomed, treated for pests and nurtured whether there are golfers or not. Golf may not be high on the spectrum of discretionary spending, although it should be if people think about it.”


Comparisons are being drawn to the economic crisis of 2008, and the resulting challenges for the golf industry. ASGCA members were asked whether golf facilities are better equipped to handle today’s challenges.


Clyde Johnston said: “A golf facility that made it through the last 12 years should be in better shape.”


ASGCA executive director Chad Ritterbusch added: “Those who used the circumstances 12 years ago to plan ahead tended to do best coming out of the volatility. Travel and other aspects may be affected now but the best courses – existing and potential – will talk about options with their architects and other team members.”


ASGCA members were also asked if they were personally still playing golf. Brit Stenson said: “I have played, yes, and even shot my age for the first time, last week! My club has closed all inside functions – dining, fitness, bridge, locker rooms, golf shop – but golf and tennis are still open for now. Walking and carrying my own clubs feels safe.”


LaFoy added: “The clubs near me are remaining open – except the dining rooms – and members are using carts. Other courses where I am working allow walking only.”


“Golf courses are staying open in our area,” said Marzolf. “The grass is getting cut.”


Ritterbusch said: “We need to be safe and good neighbours, but golf is unique as a recreational pursuit that can still be played safely; just as the golf course industry can carry forward, just in a different way.”


Richardson concluded: “Golf is a tremendous individual sport with built-in social distancing. While many municipal park systems are closing, at most I have read about, the golf courses are remaining open; they don’t pose the close encounters associated with other facilities.”