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Back on the green: Golfers return to area courses as they reopen, but life is different amid restrictions

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ON PAR — Golfers prepare to tee off at Chippendale Golf Course last Wednesday. The week marked the first of partial operations for local golf courses amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

A modicum of normalcy returned last week as the county eased one of its COVID-19 restrictions, but for those returning to golf courses during quarantine, there were notable differences to their outdoor pastime.

At Chippendale Golf Course last week, golfers meandered through the parking lot, making their way from their vehicles to the makeshift check-in station in front of the clubhouse. For some, it marked their first trip to the course after the Howard County Commissioners allowed golf courses to reopen amid the COVID-19 pandemic. But, things clearly weren’t completely back to normal. Groups didn’t congregate in the parking lot, and some wore masks. On the greens, the plastic innards of holes were inverted, dissuading golfers from reaching into the cups to retrieve their balls. There were no flags.

After Charleen Warner, a golfer of 64 years, returned from her first round of the delayed season, she said the occasion marked the first time she had seen her friends in person since the pandemic began. Her group of four women normally golfed together during the season. Two wore masks she had sewn for them.

“I was going a little stir crazy, anxious to see our friends and really anxious to get on the course … We were ready, and we were also confident the course would handle things as well as they could,” said Warner.

For Jim Humphrey, Chippendale’s golf professional, the opening was welcomed. But, the golf community was far from returning to full capacity while certain restrictions remained in place for the courses.

The course opened for the first time last Sunday, and Humphrey noted there was a certain demographic chomping at the bit to return to the lynx, but some remained cautious.

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“The die-harders, yeah, I think they’re ready to play,” said Humphrey. “Those kind of guys that just want to play golf, yes. I haven’t seen those fringe golfers that much yet. I don’t know what they’re doing. The other thing is the population of Kokomo, with its age, how many of them are really wanting to get out and not be around people they don’t know that well yet? They’re the older people, and they don’t want to get out there and take a chance. I haven’t seen those yet, but, like I said, my membership seems to want to get out and play.”

By Humphrey’s estimation, business stood at about 25 percent of what it normally would. Large group outings simply weren't allowed still while social-distancing practices remain a necessity, and tee times must be spaced out by 10 minutes. This, said Humphrey, eliminated about two tee times an hour. And, with carts limited to those who needed them, with a limit on one golfer per cart, the golf pro believed those who didn’t want to walk were remaining home, like those who feared being in public while COVID-19 remained prevalent.

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BACK TO IT — Golfers enjoy a day of sunshine as golf courses were allowed to reopen with restrictions in place.

For Chippendale Golf Course, the pandemic hit the establishment in the pocketbooks through maintenance costs, the highest expense of running a course. Even if the course was closed, it still needed to be maintained. With income limited, Humphrey was forced to cut costs by taking on maintenance himself.

“Heck yes I’m worried. I’m worried from the standpoint of how long can we continue on … You still have to do the mowing,” said Humphrey. “You still have to do the fertilizing, spraying weeds, and pre-emergence and that kind of stuff. That costs a lot of money. How do you come up with cash flow, especially when you’re in the middle of the season, and you’re struggling to get leagues started and outings going? It’s just tough to do. It’s scary times. You can get worried about whether we’ll get back to some semblance of normal.”

While golfers adjusted to the changes at their local courses, some were just happy to be outside after being quarantined. At Chippendale Golf Course last week, Miami County resident Terry Lanning said he hadn’t been anywhere for weeks. But, last Wednesday, he was about to get back to a pastime that he used to participate in multiple times a week.

“It’s going to be odd, but I’m just glad to be out and get the exercise,” said Lanning.