UPDATE: No alcohol will be sold on courses in either the snack bar or beverage carts.
By Mark Smith
Editor in Chief
Golf is back in New Mexico, but golfers need to understand that the Game of a Lifetime will be much different for the time being.
And they need to use their Noodle when teeing up their Titleist.
Per New Mexico Gov. Michelle Lujan Grisham’s updated Public Health Order on Thursday, the state’s golf courses will reopen starting Friday (May 1) with new guidelines.
Albuquerque’s four municipal courses will open Saturday (May 2). Paradise Hills and The Canyon Club reopen Friday while many others in the area are scrambling to get ready.
Derek Gutierrez, director of golf at Twin Warriors and Santa Ana golf clubs, said openings are still pending at both courses, and they will make an announcement on Friday evening as to when they will be ready to roll.
“I think there was a lot of pressure to get the courses open,” said Casey Coontz, head pro at city-owned Arroyo del Oso. “People want to play golf, get out of the house, exercise and unwind. But people need to understand that the new normal is going to be so much different than the old normal.
“We didn’t find out until a few minutes before 3 p.m. (on Thursday) that we need to open around 6 or 7 Saturday morning. I was shocked, to tell you the truth. We now know the guidelines, but there is just so much we don’t know yet.
“I wish they would have given us more than a day-and-a-half to prepare. People need to understand and be patient.”
On April 22, Lujan Grisham announced that the stay-at-home order would be extended from May 1 to May 15 because of COVID-19, and that include the continued shutdown of the links.
But the golfing community increased pressure on the governor’s office — including an email campaign by Sun Country members this week — to reopen courses, like nearly every other state in the country.
As of Wednesday, New Mexico was one of only six states that hadn’t done so. The others were Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont, Maryland and Nevada — with the latter being the only other one outside of the far northeast.
Dana Lehner, executive director of the Sun Country PGA, told Enchantment Sports that golf organizers sent a 24-page document to the state’s economic recovery council a couple of weeks ago with ideas of how to reopen, but had not heard anything back as of Wednesday evening.
“It’s obviously great news that we can open,” Coontz said, “but without having any idea of when until now, it’s going to be difficult to get everything into place. We have, by far, the busiest course in the state. We have been for 30 or 35 years.
“We have to find out which of employees can and can’t work. And I’m worried about keeping them safe, too, because 85 percent are over 65 years old. We need to get supplies from the city; masks, gloves, sanitizers. We had to throw away all our food during the shutdown, so we will probably have a limited menu in the snack bar. I just hope people understand that it will be hectic.”
While everything is fluid and there will be changes on the fly, these are most of the new procedures golfers need to know at the city-owned courses: Ladera, Arroyo del Oso, Los Altos and Puerto del Sol.
There will be signage posted on the courses with the policies.
At the Clubhouse and Parking Lot:
- All rounds will require a tee time until further notice.
- Tee times for twosomes will be in 8-minute intervals and foursomes in 12-minute intervals.
- All transactions will be completed at the door or via a walk-up window. Pro Shops will remain closed to the public until further notice (see other information below).
- Golfers must remain six feet apart while waiting to check in for their tee time.
- Players are urged not to arrive at the golf course more than 15 minutes prior to their tee time and to leave the course immediately when their round is complete.
- Snack bars or grills will be open for take-out and carry away only. No congregating in areas surrounding snack bars, grills, or patios.
- Beverage carts will be available on the golf course; however, only one person per group may approach the beverage cart (see below).
- Physical distancing will be enforced at all times.
On the Course:
- All practice facilities will be monitored by a course marshal to enforce physical distancing of 6 feet; driving ranges will be set up to use every-other tee (see below).
- Walking is encouraged; One rider per golf cart unless golfers reside in the same household (see below).
- No sand bottles will be allowed in golf carts.
- No pencils will be allowed in golf carts.
- All golf carts will be sanitized between rounds.
- All ball washers have been removed.
- All bunker rakes will be removed.
- Flag sticks must stay in the hole at all times (see below).
- All water fountains will remain off until further notice.
- Field restrooms will be sanitized every two (2) hours.
- Physical distancing will be monitored and enforced by course marshals.
- Golfers maintaining the required six feet of physical distancing are not required to wear a face covering during play.
- Golfers are required to use face coverings while inside any building or interacting face to face with any staff during any transaction, whether inside or outside. That includes with the beverage cart.
As noted, the situation is fluid and new issues are sure to arise. Enchantment Sports will do its best to keep the public updated.
Here are some other important details we inquired about and learned on Thursday:
David Salas, director of Albuquerque golf management, said he is working on installing windows at all courses. Los Altos has a window, which will be used.
- For now, Ladera, Arroyo and Puerto will have a table set up at the door of the pro shop for check-in.
- Bill Harvey, director of golf at Ladera, told Enchantment Sports that driving range tokens will be sold at the door. The course has a range ball machine.
He said the tokens will be kept in a bucket of disinfectant until sold. Players will need to insert in the machine, which requires pushing in a metal handle. Harvey said the handle will be wiped down with disinfectant every two hours, but golfers are encouraged to use a glove and carry sanitizer as an extra precaution.
He said the course is in the process of installing a sanitizer station next to the machine, which could be up by Saturday.
- The other public courses don’t have operable range ball machines, and will sell buckets of range balls at the check-in table.
All buckets will be disinfected after each use. Players are instructed to leave the bucket on the range after hitting balls, where an employee will gather them to be disinfected.
- Cups on each green will likely be filled with sponge to keep the balls from going into the hole. That might make a hole-in-1s a bit harder — or easier to claim. Who knows?
- Salas said those who do not live in the same household may be asked to ride in separate carts, but it’s possible they could still pay a half-cart rate if that is the case.
- With more carts being used for single riders — as well as the extra time required to disinfect them — golfers might have to wait longer periods to rent them.
But they will have to understand that they will not be allowed to congregate while waiting.
“It could get very complicated,” Coontz said. “I’m a little worried how we maintain structure and social distancing on a very busy golf course.
“I also hope the word gets out that people need tee times. It could get pretty crazy when we open up on Saturday.”
When asked how course employees would be able to handle a situation if numerous golfers all show up at the same time and refuse to separate, Coontz admitted “the only choice we’d really have is to call law enforcement. I hope that doesn’t happen.”
Folks, be smart. Be patient. Be kind.
It’s great that courses are open again, but don’t ignore what allowed us to this point.
Let’s make sure they remain open – and that’s up to the entire golf community, especially the golfers, themselves.
Bring gloves, sanitizer, masks and take precautions.
“Come to the golf course prepared, just like you’re at the grocery store,” Harvey said. “We are going to do everything possible to make it as safe as possible, but it needs to be less about us and more about the people playing to accomplish that.”
Mark Smith has worked in New Mexico sports media for more than four decades, and is one of the most decorated sports journalists in state history. Smith has won more than 30 combined awards in print, television and radio and has been honored nationally for investigative reporting. He is the editor in chief of Enchantment Sports. Contact him at mark.enchantmentsportsNM@gmail.com.