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Local golf courses following reopening regulations down to the 'tee'

Rain and cold couldn't keep golfers from getting back into the swing of things on Monday
Mike Dubas putts one in at the Cardiff Golf & Country Club in Morinville on the first day of reopening on May 4. His golf partner Brian Bidniak waits for him to finish up while staying dry with an umbrella. BRITTANY GERVAIS/St. Albert Gazette

Dust off the golf clubs and practice your swing: golf courses in St. Albert and surrounding areas will be open this week.

Premier Jason Kenney announced the province's phased plan for recovery on April 30. As part of the first phase, golf courses across Alberta were allowed to open on May 2 as long as they met provincial safety guidelines. 

Mark Beckwith, general manager at the Sturgeon Valley Golf Course & Country Club in St. Albert, said golfers will be allowed back on the green Wednesday, May 6.

Preparation work had been going on at the course for the last few weeks to get it ready for a possible reopening, but once the announcement was made, all of their efforts went into overdrive, he said.

"We were all anticipating we were going to get an announcement, we just didn't see it coming so quick. You've got to go from idling to full blast within a short period of time," Beckwith said.

People are anxious to get back on the green, as Beckwith said their phone lines "melted" with all the calls coming in about booking tee-times and new memberships.  

"It was like the floodgates opened," he said. "Tee times are very busy for Wednesday, Thursday and Friday. We're pretty much full."

Because of COVID-19, a round of golf will look different this season. Tee-times will be spread out at 12-minute intervals for now.

All courses have had to adapt quickly to new cleaning measures, wiping down every cart after use and keeping carts to a one-person limit, unless it's being shared by members of the same household. 

Golfers must maintain at least two-metre spacing at all times. Rakes, benches, ball-washing stands, on-course washrooms and water stations are closed or removed from the course to limit high-contact areas.

Golfers are also told not to touch flag sticks,or pick up another player's golfballs or clubs. 

The front gates are also being monitored to make sure players are pulling in no earlier than 15 minutes before their tee-time. 

To start, the Sturgeon Valley course will open up the back nine holes for play with hopes to have all 18 holes open by Saturday. The driving range will still be closed for now until staff can figure out how they would be able to monitor and enforce social distancing.

But even with the changes, the course is ready to welcome their members back on Wednesday, Beckwith said. 

Busy startup  

Other golf courses in the area opened as early as last weekend.

The Sandpiper Golf & Country Club off Meadowview Drive in Sturgeon County opened right when restrictions were relaxed on May 2.

"We were a bit shocked actually that it was that quick. Honestly, I thought we would have two or three weeks after the announcement," said Kevin Easthope, general manager.

Luckily, the golf course was prepared for a quick ramp up, Easthope said, though staff still had to "scramble" to get all the golf carts back and ready to go from winter storage. 

The first day of reopening saw 200 players on the green in total, and tee-times were fully booked within the hour, he said.

"It was amazing. People were just excited to be able to do something," Easthope said. "We feel (golf) is one of the safest things you can do."

On Monday, the rain and cold temperatures couldn't keep golfers away from celebrating the first day back at the Cardiff Golf & Country Club in Morinville. 

Brian Bidniak and Mike Dubas were finishing up the eleventh hole as rain poured down over the course.

"After 40 years, you're not scared of this," Bidniak said, umbrella raised over his head.

After making his shot, Dubas walked up to the flag and pulled it up with the end of his club to release the golfball back onto the green, hands-free.  

"It's my first game of the year, so it ain't good, but it's great to get back out there swinging," he said.

When asked about what it's like to play with the new restrictions, Dubas said there hasn't been much of a difference. Both Bidniak and Dubas said they felt safe to play on the course, and adapted to the changes pretty smoothly.

"You aren't really close to anyone anyway, at least the way we play," he joked.

Dallas Cantera, general manager at the Cardiff Golf & Country Club, said on Monday the course's first day of opening was a success, even with the wet and cold weather. All 18 holes are open to play, and the course even has a video to explain all the new rules and regulations this season.

"We've had nine people so far, and our tee-sheets this afternoon look a bit better. Once the weather starts to turn, it's going to be busy here."