‘There’s been another awakening of golf’: Local golf courses thrive amidst COVID-19 shutdown

Claire Jang/The Occidental

While government restrictions due to the COVID-19 pandemic forced many athletic facilities in the Los Angeles area to close down indefinitely, local golf courses have been welcoming players since early May. According to Nick Scott, the general manager of Scholl Canyon Golf and Tennis Club, golf has not only survived, but actually experienced a revival over the course of the pandemic.

“We have been pretty busy since reopening,” Scott said. “Since the reopening there’s been another awakening of golf.”

Scott said that before the pandemic struck, the sport of golf was dwindling in popularity, and golf clubs everywhere struggled to attract new players.

“Everyone was trying to figure out, ‘How can we bring out more public play? How can we introduce more golfers to the game of golf?’ Industry-wide, it was kind of a concern,” Scott said. “Once COVID hit and golf courses were one of the first to reopen or stay open, we’ve been seeing a huge increase in play.”

Scott said the driving range was closed when Scholl Canyon first reopened, but as local protocols have eased, the range has gone from 40-50 percent of its former capacity back to full operation.

That trend hasn’t only been for Scholl Canyon. According to Scott Scozzola, the general manager of Brookside Golf Club in Pasadena, the club has seen no shortage of business through the pandemic, even while countless other athletic facilities have been forced to shut down.

“We are busier than we ever have been since we opened on May 8th, 2020,” Scozzola said via email. “We have seen golf revenues and rounds grow by more than 25 percent.”

Avid golfers, like Occidental’s Secretary of the College Marsha Schnirring, have also noticed the sport’s increased popularity. Schnirring said getting a tee time on the weekend has been more difficult than ever, but nonetheless it has been wonderful getting to play again.

“In pre-Covid times, my husband and I usually played golf on Saturday and Sunday,” Schnirring said via email. “So I missed not getting to play for two months — it felt like six!”

While golfers have been able to keep swinging, golf clubs have had to adhere to local guidelines in order to stay open.

In response to these new regulations, Scholl Canyon Golf Club installed new safety measures, according to Scott. The club has limited use of golf carts on the first nine holes, while continuing to allow carts for the rest of the course due to its hilly terrain. Once carts are returned, they are disinfected with a cleaning solution.

According to Scozzola, Brookside is also taking the right steps to ensure it can remain open. Scozzola said in addition to the mask requirement, only one person can drive in a cart at a time, the maximum number of golfers in a group is four instead of five and tee time intervals are 10 minutes rather than eight.

The course also has numerous hand washing stations, and all touch points have been removed from the course, such as ropes, posts, signage, ball washers, sand bottles and rakes, Scozzola said.

According to Schnirring, the nature of the game fits today’s health guidelines.

“Golf is probably one of the safest sports activities in a Covid-19 world,” Schnirring said via email. “It is quite easy to maintain large distances away from others on a golf course and even on the tee box or green.”

Despite her feeling that golf is a less risky sport for contracting COVID-19, Schnirring said she was nervous about returning to play.

“Before my husband and I went on our first outing, we read up on all the changes golf courses were making to avoid touching things along with the requirements for masks and social distancing,” Schnirring said via email. “We agreed that once we got to the course, if we did not feel comfortable, we would leave.”

While both courses have put new policies in place to both protect golfers and stay open, both Scott and Scozzola said dealing with the few customers who have chafed at these restrictions has been a challenge.

“Like everyone else, we have those that do not like to comply with the restrictions that are in place,” Scozzola said via email. “For the most part, everyone is understanding.”

Scott said it has been stressful to make sure everyone is staying in compliance with the mandated health protocols.

“The main challenge as a course operator is informing the public of all the regulations that we have to follow,” Scott said. “Because even the ones giving out the orders are having trouble breaking it down, for full compliance purposes.”

Schnirring said she hopes her fellow golfers can stay vigilant so that she can continue to play the sport she loves.

“I am proud that my sport is working hard to educate people and provide opportunities for safe exercise outdoors,” said Schnirring via email. “However, over the last month I have noticed that people are becoming much [more lax], which is really unfortunate. I can stay clear of them, but I hope it does not lead to an increase in Covid-19 cases, which would mean that golf courses have to close again.”