RED WING — Golfers anxious to hit the links can breathe a sigh of relief as they can now pack up their clubs and head to the tee box. In Minnesota, courses have been open for a few days. In Wisconsin, courses will open Friday.
This comes on the heels of Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers announcing April 16 that golf courses in the state could open with restrictions, while Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz made a similar announcement the next day.
"It's important for us to stay active and enjoy the outdoors while preventing the spread of COVID-19," Walz said in a statement. "This measure will allow Minnesotans to take advantage of more opportunities to get outside, while still doing their part to keep their neighbors healthy."
While the opportunity to enjoy another outdoor activity is exciting for golfers, there are a few restrictions to keep in mind. The Republican Eagle checked in with area courses so golfers can know what to expect when playing a round.
The first change golfers will notice comes with booking a tee time and paying to play. Golfers are instructed to make their tee times online or over the phone prior to course arrival. They are also encouraged to make their payment at the same time as booking a tee time. Area courses are modifying payment options, however.
At Mississippi National in Red Wing, golfers also will be able to pay onsite.
“We opened windows so people could pay for golf standing outside,” said Nate Gale, Mississippi National head golf professional. “It’s kind of like if you walk up to a Dairy Queen.”
Gopher Hills in Cannon Falls will offer a similar accommodation — two people will be able to enter the clubhouse to pay.
Although clubhouses are open for golfers to make payments and use restrooms, other features are unavailable.
For those who like to congregate and enjoy food and drinks after finishing on the course, restaurants and bars on site will be closed. Pro shops also will be closed. There are still options for those seeking a beverage to go with their round of golf, though.
“We are making six packs for people if they want,” said Ben Bauer, head golf professional at Gopher Hills. “They can take those out on the course since nobody is allowed to be inside and sit around.”
Similar to its tee time payment structure, Mississippi National opened windows in the banquet room for people to buy bottled pop or canned beer.
Once on the course, golfers will notice a few differences. The most prominent is golf cart usage. There is a one-rider limit in Minnesota. Bauer said that golfers that reside in the same household can share a cart at Gopher Hills but otherwise a party will need one cart for each golfer. Carts at each course are sanitized before and after use.
“We have some sanitizer that we let sit on the cart and then wipe it off 10 minutes later,” Bauer said.
In Wisconsin, golf carts won’t be available at all for the time being.
Steps were made to ensure golfers don’t need to touch anything while on the course as well.
The hole has been raised at Gopher Hills so that the ball doesn’t drop inside. At Red Wing Golf Course and Mississippi National, foam pool noodles were placed inside the holes.
Bunker rakes have been removed; golfers are recommended to do their best to clean up bunkers with their feet. Ball washers are unavailable so golfers may want to pack an extra towel or two.
Driving ranges are open at Mississippi National and Gopher Hills. Bags and buckets are sanitized after each use.
Opening weekend in Minnesota
With Minnesota courses already open, there are a couple of trends that could be an indication of what to expect in Wisconsin.
While courses have been closed, maintenance staffs have been able to trim or clean up trees. Grass has also been tended to during the off days. The final snowpack completely melted in portions of area golf courses, however, so regular spring conditions apply.
Second, business is booming — at least initially. Tee times are filling up fast as the weather warms up.
As part of the restrictions, golf courses have been instructed to space out tee times further apart. With tee times scarce, it’s worth noting there are fewer of them to come by.
“We didn’t have an open tee time all weekend,” Gale said. “People were dying to get out.”