On course with the new rules of golf on Tahoe’s north shore
Special to the Sierra Sun
Tahoe golf courses that have reopened are seeing a surge of interest in the game, as people of all ages are looking to get out of the house and get some exercise.
Since golf is a sport that naturally involves social distancing, people are starting to take notice, which led to the North Tahoe courses being packed over the Memorial Day weekend. However, golf course managers have had to be careful about reopening safely and limiting the number of touchpoints.
Players aren’t allowed to touch the pins, share golf clubs, or use rakes to clean up the bunkers. It’s been a learning curve for local courses to comply, but Old Brockway and the Tahoe City Golf Course say that it’s well worth it to get open and see the smiles on people’s faces as they emerge from spending months in their homes.
Old Brockway in Kings Beach actually opened back to the public in late April.
“We shut down on April 10 by Placer County and got cleared to open again on April 20,” says Operations Manager Kyle Lewis. “It’s definitely a different world right now, we clean all the golf carts after every use and only one person is allowed in a cart at a time unless they are with a member of the same household. We spaced out the tee times from eight minutes to 12 minutes and have lost some tee times because of that, but it’s been a nice flow.
“Golfers can’t touch the flag stick; it hits the cup but then sits on top of the hole. Those are the biggest changes, but just to see people smile and so happy to be out for the first time. It’s been OK,” Lewis said with a smile.
“We were the first golf course to open west of Salt Lake City,” said Lane Lewis, Kyle’s dad and second generation owner. Lane said the whole protocol for managing their course is different, but he’s learned a lot, some new processes that they will keep indefinitely.
For instance, he said the shift from 8-minute start times to 12-minute start times have tremendously improved the flow.
“It reduced the tee times from 75 to 50, but it put a premium on them,” he says. It’s also been easier to manage tee times by only accepting them online (of by phone) as per the directive from Placer County. Old Brockway has not adjusted its tee time rates, but Lane says that tee times are selling out more quickly and more foursomes are playing to fill up the slots.
On the course, Old Brockway keeps hand sanitizer everywhere, there are no rakes in the bunkers anymore, and the ball only goes in the hole three-quarters of an inch so that people don’t have to touch the pins.
“But people have been looking at the four walls of their house for the last two-and-a-half months and the pent-up demand to play golf has just been amazing,” Lane says. In the pro shop, Old Brockway only allows four customers in at a time, it’s all spaced out, employees wear masks and gloves, and they installed a screen protecting the counter.
“People are just so happy to be out here and get a breath of fresh air. Golf is one of the few things you can do properly with social distancing and to see the enthusiasm of the people who are out here- it’s refreshing,” Lane says.
The Tahoe City Golf Course opened for the summer on May 1 just to season passholders to test the waters of the new pandemic protocol and after that went well, it then opened to the public on May 18 in Phase 2 of its four-part reopening plan.
Allowing outside play and offering more services meant that the 102-year-old golf course had to manage wiping down additional touchpoints and bringing in more employees to open the pro shop, Café Zenon, and sanitize the push carts.
Phase 3 of the plan opens the driving range and putting benches out.
“Right now there’s no place to sit because then we’d have to wipe them down after every use,” says Tahoe City Golf Course Manager Bob Bonino. However, Bonino doesn’t believe that the golf course will get to Phase 4 by the end of this season though.
“Phase 4 is having everything open where you can touch pins, have rakes in the bunkers. No way will that happen this year,” he said. “We only want to go through this once so we’re being very cautious.”
A good test run of how the new golf course operations plan would work was accommodating the droves of people who came Memorial Day weekend, which was record-setting for the PUD-owned recreation venue.
“With 100-degree weather in Sacramento and Reno, people came up here to play golf. Monetarily and player wise it’s been crazy because people don’t have anything to do and this is the best sport for social distancing recreationally and for exercise,” Bonino says.
However, on the Tahoe City Golf Course’s website there is a rule created by the State of California and Placer County Orders and Directives which states, “It is prohibited by these Orders and Directives to travel from outside the area for the purpose of playing golf. Do not travel to come play Tahoe City Golf Course.” It’s up to the residents to use their best judgment, though, as enforcing that rule is practically impossible.
“That’s a difficult thing to monitor being the PUD that we are. We usually get second homeowners coming throughout the season, but they’ve all come up here in the beginning to quarantine and stayed. We’re not the golf police. We have so many signs outside asking people to abide by the law, but then seeing Nevada license plates out front begs the question, what is the distance or radius for the shelter-in-place order?” Bonino asks. “We just have to rely on people and trust their integrity and ethics. So we’re just being overly cautious, sanitizing everything all the time. I spoke with Lane (from Old Brockway) … we’re all trying to figure out the best and safest way to offer golf.”
With other youth sports options being limited, Bonino says he is pleased to see kids taking up the sport of golf and buying season passes.
“For all the golf courses that are open business is absolutely incredible, he said. “The PUD’s job is to provide recreation to its residents and golf is so essential right now to this community. Mother Nature blessed us with an early spring. And people are smiling, they’re happy because now they have something to do.”
Kayla Anderson is a reporter for the Tahoe Daily Tribune, a sister publication of the Sierra Sun based in South Lake Tahoe.
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