Part of the problem the sporting world faces with the novel coronavirus outbreak is the same one all businesses face: the unknown. It makes planning a return nearly impossible for some of the major professional leagues. Ever since the National Basketball Association and National Hockey League went on hiatus, there’s been no sign of traction with regard to a return. Major League Baseball has tried to establish dates but to no avail.
The one major American sports organization that has established any sort of direction right now is the PGA Tour, which is set to hold events in June. The nature of the game allows for participants to keep their distance from one another, though fans will not be allowed to attend.
Some states, including New England neighbors Connecticut and Rhode Island, have allowed golf courses to remain open throughout the non-essential business closures. Massachusetts, however, is not among those places.
Initially, clubs in the Tri-Town area lobbied to stay open. Towns didn’t budge, electing to follow along with Governor Charlie Baker’s stay-at-home advisory.
“There seemed to be some uncertainty if the town could provide authority to, essentially, supersede the governor’s mandate,” Bay Club General Manager Greg Yeomans said. “And when we realized that (overriding the state) was not the case — we opened for one day upon the town of Mattapoisett’s approval, and then we shut down immediately when we realized that the governor’s mandate stood as the message that all clubs needed to do.”
Marion Golf Club was in a similar position.
“We’ve had people coming out here back and forth,” Marion Golf Club clubhouse employee Will Daly said. “We’ve had to, unfortunately, tell them they can’t be playing golf right now.”
Reservation Golf Club, however, remained open for a time. There was blowback from the outside, but that wasn’t what led to Reservation halting action on the course. The governor’s decision to shut down golf courses, other than maintenance, forced Reservation to end play — leading members to express their frustrations.
As Reservation took this unique path, the decision-makers at the club were reassessing everything to make sure the club could bounce back from the stoppage in business.
“As soon as this began, we have been doing a review of our finances,” Reservation Golf Club president Rich Deprato said. “Our club was fairly healthy. We had a pretty robust balance sheet. We had gone to our bank and said, ‘Hey, we’re considering refinancing our mortgage, trying to lower our liabilities.’ And we were given the green light to save some money. That was right at the beginning of this, before they even closed the golf course down. We were already starting to see the writing on the wall — my peers on the board of directors and I.
“So we pulled that off, we did a pretty robust review of our finances and started moving money around so that we could tolerate a month or two of closing. The other thing we did was, once we were officially closed and we had very little revenue coming in — we do our dues on a quarterly basis, our member dues — so we reached out to our mortgage lenders again, and our creditors for our lease equipment for the equipment we manage the golf course with, and we said, ‘Hey, everybody in the golf industry is in the same boat. We need a break.”
Reservation got the break it was looking for, pushing back all liabilities until August. Now the club is in the same position as all others in the Tri-Town area: Preparing for the state’s green light.
“We had a pretty significant modification to how we were going to handle golf,” Yeomans said of The Bay Club. “Essentially, eliminating all the touchpoints: ball-washers, tees, pencils, scorecards, anything that members or even guests would potentially collect before they went out. We actually took the flag sticks out of our greens, and just put every pin in the center of the green. No carts, stuff like that. We had already made some adjustments or key time intervals or 15 minutes apart.
“And there’s some other things that people are doing or preparing to do. How do you secure or how do you police, I guess, the social-distancing guidelines, making sure people are congregating in one area? So all things that we pretty much took for granted and habits that we’ve always had for a long time are going to change, certainly for the immediate future when we do get the opportunity to reopen.”
Deprato expects Reservation will keep flagsticks out when the club first opens up, and rakes will not be in bunkers.
“We’ll probably keep doing the cup-up method, which means we just don’t push the cup all the way down into the hole. It’s above grade two to three inches give or take,” he said. “We’re not sure what the rules are going to be to have our business open, but let’s say that we can generate revenue by selling greens fees and copyright carts.
“We’re probably going to put up a piece of Lexan (plexiglass) in front of our pro-shop cash-register, and we’ll probably accept greens fees and cart fees there. We have already purchased ample supplies of disinfecting devices like squirt bottles and hand sanitizer. We kind of got ahead of this in the very beginning. And then we’re going to pivot when the government says things are allowed to open a little bit.”
By Nick Friar