PGA TOUR Canada Media Official Brendan Stasiewich shakes hands with Derek Barron, winner of the Manitoba Open on the Mackenzie Tour. Photo supplied by Brendan Stasiewich and PGA TOUR Canada.

As eager golfers return to the greens following easing restrictions in light of the COVID-19 pandemic, courses like Country Hills Golf club are pleased for the positive response, even as they deal with ongoing challenges associated with distancing measures.

Colin Lavender, Tournament Director of the ATB Financial Classic, which Country Hills hosts each year, says that the weekend reopening of the course has been received well by both staff and their members.

“Groundskeepers and staff are happy to be doing something, and not hanging at home on the couch,” he said.

“One member of our grounds crew told me that he’d be happy to do this for free just to get out. After the weeks of being held up at home, people have wanted to get out on the course.”

Lavender explained that it was difficult not having a set date for the return of golf, needing a small crew of groundskeepers keeping the greens up and the course maintained, while awaiting the call from Premier Jason Kenny to reopen. When the announcement came on April 30, Country Hills raced to get ready.

“You can’t go play hockey or basketball with your friends right now, but on a golf course with over 200 acres of land, you can definitely play golf.” 

— Brendan Stasiewich

Based on new regulations put in place by the Alberta government, Country Hills has made a multitude of changes to accommodate public safety orders. This includes requiring those with a tee time to arrive only 15 minutes before they are scheduled to start — something that may be a significant adjustment for some golfers used to practicing on the range.

Other “contactless” changes include the closure of locker rooms, washrooms in the clubhouse, the pro shop, and removal of objects that are frequently touched, such as ball cleaners and divot repair kits. The provincial government has also mandated that no golfers are to touch the flag, with contactless ways of retrieving their balls from the cup being implemented.

Other members of the golf community, such as Brendan Stasiewich, Mackenzie Tour – PGA TOUR Canada media official, are just as excited to finally see golf courses slowly reopen.

Stasiewich, who works in Ontario with PGA TOUR Canada, has been watching and waiting for the reopening of courses across Canada. He notes it’s one of the few sports where social distancing can be safely accomplished.

“You can’t go play hockey or basketball with your friends right now, but on a golf course with over 200 acres of land, you can definitely play golf.”

The eighth hole of Country Hills Golf Club’s Talons Course during the summer of 2019. This section of the golf course holds the yearly ATB Financial Classic during the first week of August. Photo supplied by Country Hills Golf Course

For Lavender and Stasiewich, golf reopening is good news, as it has allowed the Mackenzie Tour, PGA TOUR Canada’s yearly set of events to shift the tour schedule. The ATB Financial Classic, hosted at Country Hills on August 6-9, will start off the season.

While pleased to see the season go ahead, the pandemic continues to cause unique challenges for tournament staff, volunteers, and players, according to both Stasiewich and Lavender.

Stasiewich says for PGA TOUR Canada, travel is the biggest obstacle to overcome. Over 70 percent of the players are American, so it raises questions about the potential for golfers needing a two-week self-isolation period following travel. There is also a lack of potential testing, making it difficult to get the go-ahead for player participation, in the case of a player contracting COVID-19.

It creates logistical challenges for Lavender, who says it makes running the tournament difficult from a volunteer aspect. For the 2019 tournament, they had over 280 volunteers, with a largely over-50 demographic, so it creates potential challenges in terms of making sure volunteers of a potentially vulnerable age group would keep safe.

“With the event moving on without spectators, we may not need as many volunteers this year,” says Lavender.

As the event and course try to deal with the current restriction of fewer than 15 people in one place, there is some solace — golf in Alberta is back. And while it has its restrictions, it’s allowing golf lovers to spend time doing an activity they love.

“People are honestly thrilled,” says Lavender.