Written by: Michael Lee
In mid-March, things began changing. You could feel it. The novel coronavirus was upon us and it wasn’t going to fade quickly. No, in fact, it was going to spread and cause life altering impacts on every single one of us.
Although impacts of the virus would not be as severe as say Queens County, NY or Philadelphia, PA, the Kansas City region wouldn’t be spared and precautions to prevent transmission of COVID-19 would be implemented at home and at work, in private and in public, everywhere. Anyone running or managing a business quickly realized that if their business was going to survive, the only way forward was to be creative and proactive in developing unprecedented mitigation measures to keep patrons safe while keeping the doors open. Golf courses would be no different.
Impressively, superintendents in the Heart chapter, as elsewhere, sprung into action. Pool noodles and pvc pipe were inserted into cups so that removing the flagstick became unnecessary; bunker rakes, ball washers, and all common touch points were removed from the course; if golf carts were allowed, they’d be limited to a single rider; payments would only be taken online or over the phone. These measures, and many others, including staffing adjustments, new rules for the maintenance shop and break room, not mention public facing areas like the pro shop and restaurant, would be implemented to enhance social distancing.
Putting these protocols in place was worth it because at the end of the day, all of us working in the golf industry realized one basic thing: golf can be played at a safe social distance. Spread over a 150-acre property on average, distancing is naturally a part of golf, especially if your game is anything like mine where you see more trees than people. Surely golf would remain viable during this strange and difficult time, right?
Well, yes, but adjusting business operations in such a significant way was only going to be worth it if governors, county commissioners, and mayors agreed that golf could be played in a safe manner. Coordinating and communicating our collective industry efforts to decision makers in government was going to be critical to success. Afterall, shelter-in-place and similar orders were coming fast from multiple directions. This is where government affairs comes into play and this is the part that made me so proud of the golf industry and the Heart of America chapter.
In the Kansas City metro, jurisdiction can be a complicated matter. For starters, what state are you in and who has authority? The county or the city? Which city? Then, as executive orders were issued, did they impact public courses only or private clubs as well? If a course must close, could maintenance at least continue? Identifying the decision makers and advocating for the industry wasn’t going to be straight forward, but Heart chapter president Mark Newton was quick to act and pulled together a strong coalition from the golf industry.
With Newton at the helm, outreach immediately began to governors in Missouri and Kansas and local officials in the City of Kansas City, Johnson County, KS, and elsewhere. Scott Hovis, Executive Director of the Missouri Golf Association, took the lead in working with Gov. Mike Parson. Our counterparts with the Central Links Golf Association and Midwest PGA Section were excellent partners in all communications and engagements with government officials.
As things progressed, our advocacy seemed to be paying off. Most courses were open for play and golfers were turning out in record numbers as they sought sunlight, fresh air, and recreation after spending many hours indoors. Unfortunately, though, in some cases, regulations seemed to change by
the day. Just when we thought we had resolved an issue with a city, something new would pop up. But the groundwork had been laid and lines of communication were established which meant problems could quickly be resolved. And this is what advocacy is all about.
In an email from late March to Heart chapter members, Newton put it best in saying, “Many thanks to all involved in advocating our great community asset to our governing officials. As we have seen in the past, our industry is loaded with individuals who know how to cope, know how to change, and know how to adapt to ever changing environments. I am confident we will ride through this storm together and that golf will be great resource for our communities and patrons during these hard times.”
Golf has indeed been a great resource to many communities during these challenging times thanks to the hard work of many industry professionals on the course and countless volunteer hours off the course. As the virus continues to linger, we’ll have to remain vigilant and nimble to everyday realities impacting the golf industry, but I’ve seen what this industry is capable of and I’m optimistic about golf’s future.
GCSAA is dedicated to serving its members and advancing their profession, so please don’t hesitate to reach out if we can do anything for you during this time.
Michael Lee is the Manager, Government Affairs at the Golf Couse Superintendents Association of America and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.