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Golf in the time of the coronavirus pandemic has arrived in Minnesota with the greens-fee taker at Francis A. Gross Golf Course in Minneapolis protected behind plexiglass. All over the state, play has resumed without bunker rakes, ball washers and water stations.

Some golfers wore face masks while they played, while some older golfers have stayed home. Course operators are urging those who play to avoid mingling before or after their round.

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All of it is in the name of safety precautions. The “no touch” rules are intended to keep golf safe and prevent the virus’ spread.

Metro golfers filled tee sheets from 8 a.m. to suppertime last weekend and again when temperatures reached the 60s on Wednesday and Friday.

“You can tell people are happy to be out, but it’s different,” Keller golf course professional Mark Foley said.

Courses opened and golfers booked tee time immediately after Gov. Tim Walz on April 17 loosened restrictions on outdoor recreation and opened courses in Minnesota. They require golfers to follow safety rules that include at least 6-foot distancing from others, no riding carts at some places and one person per cart (unless you’re from the same household) elsewhere.

The rules limit revenue but speed up play. Every little bit of greens and cart fees help an industry in which many courses rely on revenue from outings, banquets and weddings, all of which have been canceled or delayed until well into summer.

“We’ve been warning customers: You mess this up, it’s on you. You’ve got to be responsible. We’ve taken every precaution we feel necessary. Now it’s up to the customers, the public to do their good deed.”
Mark Foley, Keller Golf Course pro

From all accounts, golfers have followed safety rules, keeping it mostly the same game while knowing failure to do so could lead Walz to close courses again.

“Golfers are getting it,” Ridges at Sand Creek owner/GM Mike Malone in Jordan said. “They have forgiven Governor Walz. He’s their new hero.”

Those golfers also are making it a new day in golf.

The jammed tee sheets say much about the very definition of “pent-up demand” with which golfers returned to the game they love. But there’s a change in what Oak Marsh General Manager Steve Whillock calls the “vibe” now that there’s no physical interaction between playing partners instructed to stay at least 6 feet apart.

“It’s changed the playing field, no doubt about it,” said Foley, who also is president of the PGA of America’s Minnesota section. “The personal touch of it is pretty different. You don’t see customers much. You’re looking out the window a lot. … There are some people — older people — who will not play. They’re scared.

“Business is really good, but we’re not getting overrun. I don’t know how this is going to go. That’s the million-dollar question.”

The game’s rules have changed now that cups have been obstructed so balls don’t fall into the hole. That eliminates “touch points” around cup edges and flags, which now are not to be removed.

“You have to make some judgment calls, especially if the ball hits the flag fairly hard,” golfer Ron Gotzman said. “Would it have gone in? We go by consensus and move on.”

Gotzman, an ordained minister and fundraiser from Shoreview, played with buddies at Gross, where golfers read their credit card numbers to the employee behind plexiglass.

“We’re all aware of the safety rules,” said Gotzman, who also ushers sporting events around town. “We do pretend high-fives and elbow rubs now. We’re still harassing each other, but from a distance. We just had a great time.”

Foley said Keller golfers have been “super good” following the rules. Victory Links golf director Scott Roth intends to nurture what he calls “trunk slammers” who don’t socialize near one another before or after their rounds. The Blaine course opened Friday.

“You get on the first tee as soon as possible,” Roth said, “and you slam your trunk when you finish and go home.”

Course operators have placed many signs reminding golfers of such things because they know what’s at stake.

“We’ve been warning customers: You mess this up, it’s on you,” Foley said. “You’ve got to be responsible. We’ve taken every precaution we feel necessary. Now it’s up to the customers, the public to do their good deed.

“You don’t see anybody shaking hands, no high-fives. Nobody is even elbowing anybody anymore, and that’s a good thing.”