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County golfers play through

With much of American life brought to a halt over the past two weeks due to the coronavirus pandemic, golf has remained one of the few sports that people can still take part in while maintaining a safe distance from each other.

But for a little while on Sunday, it looked as if even that might be taken away as well after Ohio Gov. Mike DeWine issued a stay-at-home order for all but essential businesses through April 6.

“I thought we were going to have to close down, too,” said Valley Golf Club co-owner Maryann Ossoff.

However, DeWine’s press secretary Dan Tierney confirmed on Monday that golf courses would be allowed to remain open during the COVID-19 lockdown provided they adhered to strict social distancing and sanitation measures. The news came as a sigh of relief to local course operators.

“It was definitely some welcome news, I thought we were going to have to close down,” East Palestine Country Club Superintendent Rick Kyler said. “We’ll stay open for as long as we can.”

Many of the area golf courses have been hard at work making the necessary adjustments so that they can remain open and ensure the safety of their customers.

Ossoff said that shortly after opening on March 7, Valley began thoroughly sanitizing all of the carts after they were brought back as well as everything in the common area of the pro shop. Ossoff said that Valley is now permitting no more than four people in the pro shop at any one time and limiting carts to one per person with possible exceptions made for family members.

Other area courses have undertaken similar measures.

“We’ve closed down the snack bar and the sitting area in our clubhouse,” Turkana Golf Course owner Doug Hoppel said. “We’re asking that there be no more than one person per cart unless they are family.”

“We’re limiting the pro shop to one person paying at a time as well as sanitizing all the carts and only allowing one person on a cart at a time,” Kyler said.

“We’ll be allowing single carts at no extra charge,” Salem Hills Golf & Country Club PGA Pro/Superintendent Ben Broderick said.

Once golfers get on the course, they are being asked to stay 6 feet apart at all times. All of the courses are also taking the rakes out of bunkers and asking golfers not to touch the flagsticks or use the ball washers.

“We’re really depending on people out on the course showing personal responsibility and adhering to the 6-foot rule,” Ossoff said.

Some innovative steps are also being taken to ensure that golfers do not have to reach down into the hole to retrieve their ball after putting out.

Kyler said East Palestine Country Club will be leaving the cup raised a couple of inches above the ground, while Valley is putting cut-up parts of a foam pool noodle to reduce the depth of the hole, enabling golfers to pick up their ball without touching the flagstick or the cup.

Those interviewed said that it was still too early in the season to fully gauge the impact of the pandemic on their business, but as the weather warms, they are hopeful for a surge of customers eager to get some fresh air and exercise.

“We’ve been open since March 1 and business has been pretty good so far on the nice days. Hopefully that continues,” Kyler said. “I think a lot of the courses in Pennsylvania are closed, so that may have something to do with it.”

“I am expecting a surge of people when the weather turns nicer,” Ossoff said. “We had a nice turnout on Sunday and I’ve already gotten a lot of calls about Thursday, which is supposed to be nice.”

“I think you’ll see a lot of people come out once we get into April,” Broderick said. “You go by Mill Creek right now and you see a bunch of people out walking. We’ve had a lot of our members out walking our cart paths lately. People have been cooped up and they’re going to be looking for something to do.”

Broderick did say that the uncertainty could be having a negative effect on membership signups at Salem Hills, which is semi-private.

“March is usually one of my busiest times for signups,” Broderick said. “Last year at this time I had about 50-60, this year it’s 14. I think people are waiting to see what happens.”

Another area of concern in the coming months is the effect that the social distancing requirements could have on large outings, which are a vital source of revenue in the summer months.

“Outings account for about 30 percent of our revenue,” Hoppel said. “Our Giant Eagle outing, which is one of our biggest, has already been moved to August. We’ll have to wait and see what happens with everything else over the next couple of months.”

“We already had one outing in June get pushed back into August,” Broderick said. “Our first outing is scheduled for May 16 and I would be really surprised if it isn’t re-scheduled. People are having a hard time with so many businesses facing uncertainty right now.”

The same wait-and-see approach applies to leagues, most of which are set to begin in April.

“So far I haven’t heard from anybody wanting to cancel,” Ossoff said. “We’ll see what things look like in a month. If we have to delay things for a little bit then we’re prepared for that.”

While much uncertainty still lies ahead, everyone is doing their best to take it one day at a time and make the best out of the current situation.

“If we can keep staying open, hopefully we can make it through this without too much of a negative impact,” Hoppel said. “But you don’t know what things are going to look like two months from now. We’re all in the same boat here. We’re just waiting to see what happens and hoping everything works out.”

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