COVID-19

Scottsdale golf courses largely remain open, adapt during COVID-19 closures

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Editor's Note: A previous version of this article misidentified Arcis Golf CEO Blake Walker. We apologize for any confusion this may have caused.

While the novel coronavirus has brought the majority of Scottsdale to a grinding halt, local golf courses are still moving on the commercial freeway.

In a March 23 executive order, Gov. Doug Ducey deemed golf courses essential businesses, allowing them to remain open in counties with a confirmed COVID-19 case while many other businesses and schools shut down as part of the pandemic.

Mr. Ducey went further on March 30 with the announcement of his Stay Home, Stay Healthy, Stay Connected executive order.

This made non-essential business closures statewide and called for residents to limit their time away from home as well as practicing social distancing.

With no order to close, many golf courses, both private and public, across the state and Scottsdale are remaining open with many establishing efforts to prevent the spread of the novel coronavirus while still offering an outlet to residents.

“In light of recent announcements, and in an effort to navigate these unchartered waters, please know that our primary focus has been, and will continue to be, the health and safety of our members, guests and team members,” Arcis Golf CEO Blake Walker said in a prepared statement.

“Rest assured that we have implemented the most aggressive and stringent cleaning protocols to enhance our already strong, regular sanitation procedures.”

Arcis Golf owns both Continental Golf Club and Ancala Country Club, among many other courses across the Valley and country. Mr. Ducey’s decision regarding golf courses was met with mixed emotion.

During a March 30 press conference, Mr. Ducey said he made the decisions so far based on Arizona data and how Arizona is handling the spread of the coronavirus. He also said he was cognizant of the wording because he didn’t want people to panic because of the use of “shelter in place,” or similar phrases.

“We want people to stay at home. It will have the same type of effect,” he said during the conference. “But we also realize that people are going to need an outlet and there’s a way to do it in a safe way and the order has the mechanisms.”

Brad Kozak is the president of Phoenix-based Foreward Business Consulting, where he develops golf tourism packages. Since the start of social distancing, Mr. Kozak said he has been golfing regularly because he sees it as an outlet from the day-to-day stresses, a sentiment he believes others share.

“All of a sudden, people are not in their offices, they’re at home with their kids every single second of every single day,” he said. “I think it’s a bit of an outlet. I know at my golf club, I’ve seen more families out of the golf course where usually it would just be male, female, whoever coming to play with their friends whereas now, in the afternoons, you’ll see guy and wife bringing up their kids.

“I think it promotes the healthy, going outside part as opposed to I want to play really good golf.”

While many stay open, there are some in Scottsdale that have decided to shutter for the time being. McCormick Ranch Golf Club decided to take this route following the close of business March 21.

“We feel that it is our duty to put the health of our employees, guests and community above revenue and we hope you understand,” Stuart Kirk, club president, said in a prepared statement to the community.

“The plan and expectation is that when we are able to reopen, we’ll call our employees back to work and post a notice on our doors, website and phone system.”

While loving golf and the outlet it provides, Mr. Kozak says he understands the argument for closing golf courses during the pandemic.

“A golf course, at the end of the day, is a recreational activity,” he said. “If you’re going to go about closing other things, then golf courses probably should be under that umbrella as well. So I’m kind of on the fence about it.”

Precautions and effects

Many Scottsdale golf courses have announced a series of precautions they are taking to better combat the spread of COVID-19 while still allowing for patrons to visit their facilities.

Some actions include limiting face-to-face interactions such as eliminating bag loading and unloading; sanitizing golf carts; leaving the flagsticks in the cup during putting; not using rakes in bunkers; and having one person from a group enter the golf shop. Some are switching to prepayment options to further eliminate interactions.

On the course, clubs recommend golfers follow the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s guidelines of maintaining proper distances and proper hygiene practices.

“While we remain open for play in these unprecedented times, the safety and well-being of our staff and our patrons continues to be our top priority,” McDowell Mountain Golf Club wrote in a prepared statement to golfers.

“While our staff is working diligently to ensure the safest possible environment, we ask that you join us in helping to keep golf safe through the coming weeks and months.”

When it comes to golfers, Mr. Kozak said he divides them into two groups: avid and casual participants. He said he believes avid golfers, ones who golf every week or more, will continue golfing while courses might see a taper off in casual participants.

In Scottsdale, Mr. Kozak said he believes there are more avid golfers so he doesn’t expect to see too much of a drop-off. Furthermore, he said in his line of work, he’s seen golf trips come to a standstill since people aren’t traveling.

“We’ve had pretty much 100% cancellation from our business in the Valley,” he said. “The worst part is there’s not really an end to it so now April’s washed out now that the stay-in-place here in Arizona. Hopefully, we can get things back by mid-May, June.”

The mindset Mr. Kozak sees being prevalent among golf courses is to keep their heads above water with their sights set on a potential positive future. He says while golf courses may take a hit during the time of closures, he knows they will bounce back.

“It’s a resilient industry and I think it will come back stronger than ever,” he said.

“It’s unfortunate to see a lot of those hospitality jobs being lost but as things get back to normal, hopefully in the next couple of months, I think we’ll see a big bump up in golf and people spending money to visit this area of the country.”

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