ARYGLE — Wisconsin governor Tony Evers extended the state’s stay-at-home order April 16 in response to the continued COVID-19 outbreak. However, the extension does allow some sportsmen to leave their homes to play golf starting April 24.
With the first stay-at-home order, golf courses were shuttered, like many parks, gyms and other workout facilities. However, with the extended order, golf courses will be able to allow citizens to hit the links. Pro shops and clubhouses will be closed, with scheduling for tee times to be done either by phone or online in advance of play. Driving carts are off limits, as are driving ranges. All normal social distancing requirements must be observed, unless the players reside in the same household. Tee times will be spaced out even more than usual in order to keep clusters or gatherings on the course taking place.
“Last year we weren’t open until April 22 because we still had snow on the ground, so it’s not that different from that perspective,” said Jeff Ellingson, general manager of Edelweiss Chalet Country Club in New Glarus. “While maybe not everyone agrees with the rules, like no food or beverages and those things, it’s very important for us to follow the rules so we don’t get shut down like they did in Illinois.”
With Minnesota reopening its courses, and Illinois set to follow in May, Midwest states are opening in the nick of time for the usual start of the season. Across the country, 50.2 percent of courses were closed as of April 17, according to GolfAdvisor.com.
Local courses are ready for any business that might come their way.
“People can call me on my cell phone to set up tee times,” said Steve Flanagan, the new owner of the 9-hole Yellowstone Golf Course just outside of Argyle on Old Q Road. “We wanted to get a new system in place, and that cost about $3,000, but that’s on hold.”
Flanagan, who also owns Flanagan’s Shenanigans on Monroe’s Square, said he started thinking about buying land and making a golf course in the late ’90s during an industry boom. Then about three years ago he began looking into purchasing a course that might be for sale. “The cost never fit my price range,” Flanagan said. This past winter in mid-January, he completed the purchase of Yellowstone Golf Course and its restaurant, Gnarly Oak.
The time in hindsight was poor, as Flanagan was about to open for business when the coronavirus outbreak hit. He said he’s three months into making payments for everything with no profits coming in.
“I’ve got two businesses that aren’t going anywhere right now. That’s two payments each month with nothing coming in,” Flanagan said.
He’s having interested golfers call his cell phone because the courses old numbers were disconnected during the closing of the sale. That’s not the only untimely issue that’s popped up for Flanagan: The restaurant still needs to be licensed.
“It really hurts. Before opening the restaurant and getting going, everything was closed,” Flanagan said.
However, without golfers on the course, the maintenance staff has been working on getting everything ready for Friday, and Flanagan said the course should be in great condition.
“There’s been a big difference made already in just the quality of the course,” Flanagan said.
Flanagan hired a course superintendent, and they are making a strong effort to get the playing surface up to par — if not better. He plans on fixing up the driving range, though that part of the course will be closed during the extended stay-at-home order.
With the extended order scheduled to end May 26, Flanagan said he was hoping to get some leagues started right away again. Monday mornings will have its usual men’s league, with a lady’s league set for Monday nights. He’s expecting the Tuesday men’s league back, as well as restarting the Wednesday men’s league. Thursdays will be a couples league, with Friday, Saturday and Sunday open for regular golf.
“I talked with some of the members about it. We want to get the leagues going in May,” Flanagan said.
The opening of the restaurant is being taken with a wait-and-see approach, Flanagan said. He doesn’t expect too many changes, just a few menu items might get switched. He plans on keeping the same restaurant staff as the previous owners.
“We’re not really changing a lot, just improving things around the course and the restaurant,” Flanagan said.
At Windy Acres, a public 9-hole course just south of Monroe on County K, a message for patrons on the phone line said the course would be open at 8 a.m., but sans carts, per the governor’s order.
“Golf course owners and superintendents — and everyone else that is involved in the game — are trying to perhaps have golf cart access for people with disabilities or challenges that can’t walk the course,” the message said.
The original ban on playing only stopped clubs and courses from profiting on people playing the courses. In Monroe, multiple players could be seen on the course most days — some sneaking on from the residential borders, and others simply parking in the lot and walking with their clubs.
The Monroe Golf Club, formerly known as the Monroe Country Club, is an 18-hole PGA certified course. Originally built in 1923, the course is just over 6,200 yards long and is a par 70. The club is set to open for walking-only players April 24.
Edelweiss Country Club, an 18-hole, par 72 course just southeast of New Glarus, will have 12 minutes between tee times and will not allow any more than four players on the putting green at any time.
Ellingson said the restrictions haven’t stopped his phone from ringing.
“Ever since it was announced on Thursday my phone hasn’t stopped ringing. For Friday, Saturday and Sunday (April 24-26), we have 250 players already booked,” Ellingson said. “On Friday there is a 50% chance for rain, and usually no one would call to book a tee time, but people are still calling.”
Ellingson said that despite the course being closed nearly as long last spring as this year, it’s still different.
“It’s more of a mental thing. I think everybody is just getting bored being inside — they want to be outside and excercise,” Ellingson said, adding that the no-cart rule likely wouldn’t hamper many people early in the spring compared to the fall. “I think the majority of the people would be OK walking early in the year.”
The course will not have bathrooms or porta-potties, benches, bunker rakes or ball washers. Flagsticks are required to stay in the hole and not be removed during gameplay.
But again, Ellingson said the restrictions aren’t that bad compared to the links staying shuttered.
“It’s great that we get to open,” he said.