New style of golf offers relief for ‘holed up’ residents during ‘Safer at Home’ movement

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Samantha Heitz checks in French Valley resident Jeff DeLand as the Links at Summerly reopens for business. Valley News/JP Raineri photo

Private and public golf courses in Riverside County have been closed because of the coronavirus pandemic, but a new order was signed Monday, April 20, by Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County Public Health officer, and George Johnson, director of emergency services for the county, who said courses would be allowed to operate, but with certain restrictions under a revised order.

The county also clarified that parks and trails can remain open, including parking lots. Social distancing and face coverings must always be maintained. Allowed outdoor activities include hiking, biking and equestrian activities and other noncontact outdoor activities such as tennis as well. Outdoor activities that remain prohibited include the use of picnic tables, playgrounds, team sports or other similar public events and gatherings.

With new restrictions in place, Brett Bergeron, Kevin McGinnis and Jeff and Jaxon Deland await their turn in line at the golf shop for the Links at Summerly in Lake Elsinore. Valley News/JP Raineri photo

“Play is being cautiously reopened for observation,” Kaiser said.

So, Saturday, April 25, I headed for Lake Elsinore to play a round at the Links at Summerly. General manager Larry Werner, who has been the head golf pro there for the past four years, said he and his staff have been preparing for the reopening of their course for the past couple of weeks.

“We knew this day would be coming, we just didn’t know when,” Werner said. “We are absolutely taking every measure needed in order to adhere to the new restrictions and we have lowered our rates for now. Our course is a little more unique than others and though we can get through about 200 rounds a day right now, we have to offer carts for use as our course is spread out over a further distance than most.”

Some of the restrictions include: Play shall be limited to foursomes that will always be required to observe social distancing with 6 feet of separation between players. No caddies. No large gatherings, including fundraisers or tournaments, will be permitted before June 20. Face coverings, such as scarves, bandanas and neck gaiters, must be worn by players and workers. No in-person dining will be allowed at clubhouses.

Temecula residents Baylian McCrea, Samantha Brennan, Trevor McCrea and Austin Flaugh enjoy time on the course while adhering to the new restrictions and practicing social distancing. Valley News/JP Raineri photo

I took in several things that made me feel comfortable, including the floor signs installed to keep golfers apart while checking in. The employees only allowed one person in the clubhouse at a time and only one person per cart was allowed, unless riders could verify that they live in the same house. There were no flags to pull, holes were placed upside down for golfers to aim at, no rakes were put out for the bunkers and yet, with all the restrictions, there were smiles everywhere.

“We are just happy to be out in the sun and playing golf, while still practicing social distancing,” Temecula resident Trevor McCrea, who is also a Marine stationed nearby, said.

One huge disappointment for me, which was in no way a fault of the course, was the amount of trash golfers were leaving behind at the most random places like in the middle of a fairway. My hope is that some accountability comes into play as more and more places like the Links at Summerly open their doors to provide golfers with a place to go for some leisurely activities.

The Soboba Springs Golf Course reopens after being given the green light by Riverside County health officials. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

“Golf is an iconic part of our destination, our history and our economy,” Scott White, chief operating officer of Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, said. “It is imperative that we follow the orders outlined and not allow the coronavirus to return to the previous levels. We will continue to work with Riverside County with the goal to help reopen more tourism-related businesses.”

Soboba Springs Golf Course is among others in Riverside County that were given the green light to open and they did so April 25. Jason Cozart, assistant manager of Soboba Casino Resort, was quick to put things in motion to open the course for limited use as outlined by the Riverside County health officer. Cozart said he looks forward to seeing regulars and newcomers out on the golf course greens under blue skies during the upcoming sunny days.

Werner and Cozart both cited the National Golf Course Owners Association, which has developed a “Park and Play: Making Your Course Social Distance Ready” program. For the purpose of this order, social distancing requires a 6-foot separation from all persons except for household members and medical providers with the appropriate personal protection equipment.

Golf enthusiasts throughout Riverside County get out to play on courses like Soboba Springs Golf Course, which reopened Saturday, April 25. Valley News/Soboba Band of Luiseño Indians photo

“The Park and Play guidelines have been out for some time, even before the county order allowing courses to reopen,” Cozart said. “We have been preparing for implementation even before our closure. We are happy that the county has seen fit to allow us to operate, and we will make sure that our staff as well as our guests adhere to all safety guidelines. We also would like to remind our guests to bring their own water to ensure they stay hydrated, especially as we move into warmer days.”

Tee times can be booked for The Links at Summerly at http://www.thelinksatsummerly.com or Soboba Springs Golf Course at https://www.soboba.com/golf or by visiting https://www.golfnow.com to find any other local courses as well.

Soboba article contribution made by Mike Hiles.

JP Raineri can be reached via email at sports@reedermedia.com.