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Sports >  Area sports

Spokane getting back on course but not quite in full swing

Hal Cox chips the ball onto the 9th green at Esmeralda Golf Course, Tues., May 5, 2020. Local golf courses have re-opened after being closed because the COVID-19. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)
Hal Cox chips the ball onto the 9th green at Esmeralda Golf Course, Tues., May 5, 2020. Local golf courses have re-opened after being closed because the COVID-19. (Colin Mulvany / The Spokesman-Review)

It’s not business as usual for Spokane area golf courses, but it’s moving in the right direction.

Spokane city and county courses reopened May 5 after a six-week shutdown due to the coronavirus outbreak. Gov. Jay Inslee earlier this week eased restrictions on foursomes and gave pros the go-ahead to provide lessons/instruction.

“If the weather is good, we’re really busy,” Esmeralda pro Rob Sanders said. “If we had weather like we did in April when we were closed, it would have been fantastic.

“We can put out probably 20% more (golfers with foursomes, compared to mostly twosomes under Inslee’s original directive). On a nice day, our max would be around 320; with twosomes it was more like 260. It makes a big difference.”

“We’re still no rakes, no touching the flag,” Qualchan pro Mark Gardner said, “but for golf we’re halfway there.”

And still no leagues, tournaments or sit-down meals at course restaurants, but there’s optimism on the horizon. The first Inland Empire Chapter pro-am is scheduled for June 1 at Avondale. Qualchan hopes to offer league play in early June. Restaurants can open at 50% of seating capacity in Phase 2 of Inslee’s reopening plan.

“Golf is such a social thing,” MeadowWood pro Bob Scott said. “The speed of play (with twosomes) was off the charts. The first group that went off as a twosome played in 2 1/2 hours. The average time was 3:10, 3:20. It was a lot more manageable for speed of play, but with twosomes there’s not a lot of socializing, and that’s what people missed.”

Golfers appreciated returning to the links, including two regulars at Esmeralda who haven’t missed a day, rain or shine, since the reopening, Sanders said. “The one thing that’s kind of cool that I don’t get a ton of in my position, I have people, at least a dozen times a day, just thanking me for being open.”

Courses that were offering tee times at 5-to-7-minute intervals with twosomes are back to customary 8-to-10-minute splits with four-player groups. The resumption of foursomes should make it easier on marshals.

“People were pretty excited the first couple days and their patience started to deteriorate, and they started to join up (with another twosome),” Gardner said.

“It created some issues for us, marshaling.”

Social-distancing rules and cleaning protocols remain in place, along with carts limited to a single rider under most circumstances. The single-rider requirement stressed cart inventory, but courses were able to avoid customers having to wait for a cart.

“We never did have a problem,” said Scott, who rented extra carts to reach 80 available carts. “Our outside service kids are working a lot more, because they’re disinfecting everything as soon as that cart comes back.”

Pros and assistant pros can give lessons to individuals or groups, provided safety precautions are followed.

“The last couple years we’ve tailored lessons to groups,” Sanders said. “Unless you’re a real serious golfer, a group lesson is more social, and people have more fun and sometimes get more out of it than an individual lesson.

“It’s a big deal, especially for assistant pros. At a lot of places it’s almost half their income, if they really work at it and promote it.”

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