The first round was on Kyle Williams on Tuesday morning at Esmeralda Golf Course in northeast Spokane.
Williams and his neighbor, Kevin Jordan, have been practicing their chipping at home during Gov. Jay Inslee’s stay-home order that banned some recreational activities mid-March. They placed a $50 wager on who among them and Williams’ children could chip into a hole, and Jordan’s winnings were enough to cover the $43 in green fees on Spokane’s most-played municipal course.
“I put him in the deal, and he drained it in like three shots,” Williams said Tuesday, the first day courses in Washington were able to open as a result of Gov. Jay Inslee loosening restrictions on his stay-home order, while he waited to tee off as a twosome with Jordan.
“I walked off, and I haven’t chipped since then,” Jordan said, grinning.
They were among a packed lineup of groups waiting to play under revised Washington state rules that limit groupings to two players, require reservations for tee times online or on the phone and prevent players from removing flag sticks, among other measures designed to stop the spread of germs.
Rob Sanders, who’s been the club pro at Esmeralda, said early Tuesday it appeared players were adhering to the rules.
“We’re completely full, we have no times until like 5:30 this afternoon,” Sanders said, as an announcement came over the loudspeaker about who was next on the teebox.
Though they were adhering to the rules, most players milling about the clubhouse and staying at least 6 feet apart said some seemed like overkill for a sport that already is intended to be played with personal space.
“With golf, you don’t want to be within 6 feet of somebody because they’re swinging a club,” said Mike Kaluza, who’s been playing Esmeralda every year reaching almost back to its opening in 1956.
Kaluza said he got a round in between when the municipal courses opened in March and when the governor’s order went into effect. He came down with some pneumonia-like symptoms that worried him but still hasn’t been tested for the virus or its antibodies, though he’d like to be.
Kaluza was playing in a pair in a group that included five other players and said he felt like the twosome order was “too much.”
“This is going to be interesting, to see how it goes,” he said, as his playing partners putted on a practice green without a communal hole, per the governor’s orders. “But I’m just glad to be out here.”
Mark Poirier, golf manager for the city of Spokane, said twosomes were teeing off every 5 minutes Tuesday in an effort to maximize the number of people who could play. At some courses, that caused some delays, one of the biggest hiccups for an otherwise successful opening, he said.
“That’s what we’re going to do all week,” Poirier said of the 5-minute staggering starts. “We’re going to be looking at a little bit further gap between play, to better facilitate the pace of play aspect.”
Municipal golf got off to an “early opening” in 2020 before four courses shut down, Poirer said. Golf revenues were outpacing projections in the city of Spokane before Inslee’s order, according to reports shared with the Spokane Park Board at its last regularly scheduled meeting in April. Through March, the department had collected $539,590 in revenue. It had projected $363,536 in receipts through that month.
Spokane County also saw a strong reopening to its golf season Tuesday, said Parks Director Doug Chase. Rounds at the three county-owned courses filled up for the day within about eight hours of the announcement they’d reopen.
“We are fairly full for the next several days. I think there are a few times available,” Chase said. “I would certainly encourage people to call.”
The city of Spokane and Spokane County are following the governor’s orders for reserving tee times, and they’re available to reserve on a rotating seven-day schedule. That means new tee times become available for a week out at courses each afternoon.
That approach will allow the courses to pivot should there be any changes to Inslee’s orders about play, Chase said.
“We’re not allowed, or in a position, to take drop-in play right now,” Chase said. “Traditionally, our courses have been pretty good at trying to work you in and get you on the course.”
On display at Esmeralda were the fruits of a new irrigation system, part of the city’s efforts to modernize its watering system at area links to reduce water waste and improve playing conditions. Indian Canyon was the first to open with a new system in April of last year, and Esmeralda followed suit when it reopened for the season in early March.
“It’s so much greener,” Sanders said. “It’s pretty sweet.”
That means an easier time chipping back onto the fairways and greens for Williams and Jordan, who also noted the lusher look of the course as they waited to tee off. Esmeralda is not just the home course for Williams, but also where his 14-year-old son plans to return to work as schedules normalize under the new government directives.
“He was able to work a couple shifts before they shut everything down, picking up the range and parking the carts at night,” Williams said. “But he’ll get out here a bunch now.”
So will Kaluza, Williams and Jordan. After hitting into nets and around their backyards for the past month, they’ve made additional tee times for the next several days at area courses in hopes that a spring pastime can return – at least a little bit – toward normal.
“With Washington people, there’s nothing else to do,” Williams said. “You can’t do restaurants, you can’t do anything. So any chance I get, I’m going to be out here.”
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