By Ken MacLeod
Private golf clubs across the state were adjusting to a new if hopefully temporary reality this week. Although the golf courses are open for the most part, the closure of dining and banquet facilities means loss of significant revenue even while dues are still coming in.
And with a government-imposed shutdown of the economy, there was fear that members whose businesses were affected with shrinking disposable incomes would look at country club memberships as a luxury
At Southern Hills Country Club in Tulsa, with 250 employees, general manager Nick Sidorakis said the COVID-19 pandemic had an affect on every employee.
“Everyone is affected,” Sidorakis said Thursday morning from an empty clubhouse. “Right now everyone is still employed but we’re evaluating everything in two-week stages.”
The golf course at Southern Hills remains open for walking only. A few members of the grounds crew were the only ones at the course besides Sidorakis. Members of the food and beverage operation were to come in for carry out service between 4 p.m. and 7 p.m.
Reduced staffs and take out operations were pretty much the norm across the state. At Oak Tree National and other clubs, not only was the virus a huge hurdle, but the collapse of the oil and gas markets world wide was a big concern as well.
Tom Jones, president and COO at Oak Tree, said he estimated 25 percent of his members were in businesses related to oil and gas.
“But you know what, they’ve seen ups and downs before and they know that life goes on,” Jones said. “I hear them say things like my dues are the least of my worries, I need golf to keep my sanity.”
Jones said the play on the course has been brisk when the weather has cooperated.
“We’re just trying to do things the right way and protect the employees and the members,” Jones said of the protocols in place, including limited interaction between members and employees. “There is also a responsibility of each individual to do the right thing, stay home if you’re sick and maintain social distancing.”
The reopening of the Perry Maxwell-designed course at Oklahoma City Golf & Country Club after an extensive renovation by Tripp Davis was scheduled Wednesday but pushed back until early April thanks partly to 4.5 inches of rain in the previous week.
Director of Golf Tim Fleming said otherwise the club remains closed except for some carry out orders. Be sure to read the April-May issue of Golf Oklahoma for an exclusive story by Davis on his work at the club.
Rick Reed, director of golf at The Oaks Country Club, said golf was still being played but otherwise activity was light.
“We’re all just in a wait-and-see mode as to how severe this is going to be,” he said. Since The Oaks is in Sapulpa, it could keep the restaurant open, but Reed said only 10 or fewer members came in for lunch on Thursday.
At Tulsa Country Club, among the standard precautions golf courses are taking, superintendent Brady Finton came up with a novel idea of putting the cup in upside down, (see picture) creating a situation where the ball is just an inch or two below the surface when a putt is made, making it easy for the golfer to pluck the ball out without touching the cup or the pin.
In the current situation, touching the pin is probably the most unsanitary thing a golfer can do in a round where it is otherwise fairly easy to maintain considerable social distancing and avoid touching anything that is not yours.