SALT LAKE CITY — With the transition to lower risk levels for coronavirus in most areas of the state, more Utahns are getting outside to enjoy some of their favorite pastimes. In the Salt Lake area, scores of people are flocking to the valley’s numerous golf courses, which have instituted policies to mitigate the potential spread of COVID-19.
Siblings Greg and John Raleigh are avid golfers who have played at various courses throughout the restricted conditions over the past two months. While John Raleigh expressed concern about courses possibly lifting restrictions in the coming weeks, his brother said he expects people to quickly return to previous behaviors despite the potential risks.
“We play once a week and we pay online. We try to try to arrive about 15 minutes before the tee time, not much sooner. I don’t want to be exposed to a lot of people at this point,” John Raleigh said. “I don’t feel like we’re comfortable enough to be exposed to good people at a close distance or even passing people at a close distance. I don’t like that feeling, so the more people that come out, I think it may influence my decision to play more in this summer.”
Both Salt Lake City and Salt Lake County each operate six courses spread throughout the area, attracting duffers and avid players alike. When the coronavirus pandemic struck Utah in earnest, all courses and facilities closed for a time while officials devised plans for safer play.
“We’ve had a plan for each phase as we move through the state’s risk phase plan. This goes back to when we went to the red risk level, where we closed the shops to all the customers as far as people coming into the shop to book their time or to pay for their rounds,” explained Salt Lake City golf director Matt Kammeyer. “We basically said all play needs to be booked and prepaid online.”
By keeping the pro shops closed, employees and customers were limited from unnecessary exposure to potential infection, he said. Players were urged to keep safe physical distancing while on the course and cart rentals were discontinued during the red level alert.
“Golf kind of lends itself well to social distancing,” he said. “Once you’re out on the course, you can stay safe, stay far away from everybody else.”
The city facilities allowed customers to use clubhouse restrooms, which were cleaned hourly, Kammeyer said. However, cafes and driving ranges were closed.
Salt Lake County mirrored some of the restrictions imposed at city courses by closing practice areas and limiting clubhouse access. Players asked to arrive no more than 15 minutes before teeing off and were met at the parking entrance to confirm their tee times. Portable restrooms were made available for use and all payments were taken over the phone to limit face-to-face interactions with course employees.
“That’s been our No. 1 priority this entire time — safety for patrons and safety for our employees,” said Salt Lake County golf spokesman Clayton Scrivner. “Luckily golf can be a socially distant sport with just a couple of tweaks to our operations, so that’s why we were able to open up golf a little earlier with approval from the health department.”
He said more changes could be on the way in early June as alert levels transition from orange to yellow throughout the entire county, which would then prompt the opening of all county golf facilities.
And that will likely bring more golfers like the Raleighs to the links.
“As the temperatures get warmer, people become more comfortable, more complacent,” Greg Raleigh said. “I don’t think any of this will matter in a few weeks. People will just golf as normal and get back on the greens.”