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Area Golf: Adjusting to the new normal

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Ridge Hunstad, Cragun's Legacy Courses Pro Shop assistant, demonstrates Wednesday, May 27, the foam rubber insert that has been placed in each cup at their courses to prevent players from handling the flag. Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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It’s been a month since Minnesota Governor Tim Walz allowed golf courses to open.

Golf during a global pandemic has been different, but some area courses have seen some of the changes be beneficial to the course.

At Cragun’s Legacy Courses, they have noticed a faster pace of play, due to the pins staying in and only allowing a single rider in golf carts.

With the social distancing guidelines, golfers are not coming into the pro shop, which opened at the Legacy Courses this week, rather booking and paying online so the process is smoother.

“We’ve had an increase in online reservations and people paying in advance, whether it’s calling ahead by credit card or going online and paying,” Cragun’s director of golf Chuck Klecatsky said. “That’s made for a very smooth process. The pro shop is open now, so people can come in and pay and do some shopping. We are just limiting the number of people that can be in the golf shop at one time.”

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Another thing Klecatsky has noticed is young golfers on the course. He credits spring sports getting canceled contributing to a younger demographic on the fairways and greens.

“We think some of the baseball players and softball players — kids who traditionally haven’t played golf in April and May — we have seen them out here,” Klecatsky said. “That’s been a nice surprise. We’ve also seen pace of play has been faster than normal.”

At The Pines at Grand View Lodge, the check-in setup is all outdoors. Golfers with a tee time pay on the patio so nobody is going in and out of the pro shop. Members have been known to holler at the employee working the desk to check them in.

“The biggest thing I’ve seen is that it’s truly just about golf now,” Director of golf at Grand View Lodge Jack Wawro said. “There’s not a lot of interaction before golf or after golf. They come out, play golf and leave.

“We have kind of been running smoother than we have ever had. We opened as a retail store last Monday, so that has helped it be a little more normal, but it was efficient and I was surprised by that.”

Wawro said membership at The Pines has been at an all-time high this season.

Neither place has had a beverage cart on the course since opening. At the Legacy Courses, takeout has been available for those staying at resorts.

“With our golf package guests who stay at the resort that get their breakfast, lunch and dinner all included in their package, we’ve been taking pre-orders and having pickup times,” Klecatsky said. “So they can get their food when they are off the course and go back to their cabin or the place they are staying and eat.”

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The Pines has a window setup on the patio to sell food and drink at the turn or at the end of the round, but no one has been able to eat on the patio.

Starting Monday, June 1, however, both places plan to open up their patio since Governor Walz announced restaurants could take reservations up to 50 people.

“We are going to follow the guidelines the governor has put in place and open as soon as allowed,” Klecatsky said.

With golf course maintenance, not much has changed. The only change Klecatsky has noticed is their morning meeting is socially distanced.

“Once they get out there and do their job it’s pretty easy to maintain social distancing,” Klecastsky said.

Wawro added that the cups seem to be lasting longer because golfers are not using their putters to get their balls out.

Wawro said it will be up to each individual course when the right time to relax the original restrictions will be.

“It’s going to be difficult because you know the state is not going to address golf again in a detailed fashion,” Wawro said. “They’ve addressed it once and I don’t think they are going to come back and say ‘hey bunker rakes are good today.’ So it’s going to be up to the properties to decide what we feel will be safe and not safe.

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“I don’t know an answer to everything being back to normal and I don’t think there will be. Will everyone be doubling up in carts by the end of year? I don’t think so. I think we will see more people doubling up, but I still think some people will be scared to do that.”

Grand View is thinking about putting a bunker rake in each cart and they can disinfect the rake after the round like they do with each golf cart. The Pines and The Preserve are also looking at putting sand bottles in the carts as well, so players can replace divots.

“It’s something they do in Florida and Arizona,” Wawro said of attaching rakes on the carts. “It’s doable. We’ve ordered the necessary tools to mount it to a cart. We are going to do it and to try it. I also like the idea of not having bunker rakes on the course because sometimes you can get a bad lie up by the rake.”

Grand View employees working at a course are wearing a mask. Wawro has even seen people playing golf with a mask something he thought he would never see.

“I’m seeing about 10-15% of people wearing a mask while playing which is definitely a change,” Wawro said.

One of the things Wawro likes about the new way golf is played is the pace of play. He said even when things get to be “normal” again, they might continue to tell people to not touch the pins regardless.

“With the single carts our pace of play is probably 30 minutes better than usual for 18 holes, maybe more than that,” Wawro said. “It’s been interesting to see that. I do think people are enjoying the game more. It’s a chance to get away from people’s negativity of the thought of COVID-19 and a chance to get away from that. I’ve heard that a lot.”

Wawro said golf is becoming more of a family outing.

“I’ve noticed with our members their families are here,” Wawro said. “I’ve noticed that complete families are out here. It’s not just mom and dad playing, it’s mom, dad and their kids playing. Which I think helps grow the game.”

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