It’s been two weeks since New Hampshire golf courses opened under guidelines aimed at protecting players and staff from the coronavirus pandemic.
The verdict? Courses are in superb shape after sitting idle through April and early May, and the restrictions aren’t taking away from the enjoyment of the game at all.
But that doesn’t mean the changes haven’t been noticed. Players need to keep six feet of distance between themselves and all other competitors, meaning groups can’t congregate by the first tee while waiting for their rounds to start. There’s also no use of putting greens for pre-round practice.
“The first time that we played, it was little rough heading straight to the tee without being able to warm up,” said Regina Sullivan of Merrimack, who has played at her course, Souhegan Woods in Amherst, three times, including in her Wednesday night league. “I’m like, ‘Oh my gosh, we haven’t hit a ball. l haven’t putted.’ That was a new experience not be be able to do that.”
Craig Steckowych of Greenland agreed. “It’s not the easiest thing to step to the first tee and lash a golf ball. You can’t even hit a few putts to see what the greens are like,” he said.
Nevertheless, Steckowych said, players are abiding by the rules.
“It’s a pretty safe environment,” said Steckowych, a two-time State Amateur champion who has been out to Portsmouth County Club a handful of times. “Golfers are fairly intelligent folks. We’re not going to congregate in a huddled mass on the driving range.”
“Because golf is such a social sport and you want to chit-chat as you go down the fairway, you have to remember to move away” if you get too close to other people, Sullivan said.
Phil Pleat of Nashua, a three-time State Am champion and member of the New Hampshire Golf Hall of Fame, said the end of one staple, the post-match handshake, has been a difference of note.
“That’s strange,” he said. “It’s part of the game.”
“It’s been great to get out,” Pleat said. “I’ve been walking. I see a lot of people with one person in the cart.” At this time, carts are restricted to one rider, unless two people live in the same household.
One change that’s earned rave reviews is the 12-minute intervals between tee times. Typically, courses use intervals from 8-10 minutes.
“It’s 12 minutes every tee time so the pace of play is very good. The spacing is good,” said Danny Arvanitis of Manchester, a State Am champion who has played Derryfield Country Club in Manchester every day since courses opened. “We’ve been doing 3½ hours (per round), which is great.”
“I actually like the tee times. It’s far more organized,” Sullivan said. I know it’s probably not good for the course because it limits the number of people who can play but the pace of play has been phenomenal.”
One aspect of the experience that’s changed is the socializing after the round, although the opening of restaurants with proper social distancing may allow for limited fun at the 19th hole at some courses.
“I do miss the ability after the round to go into the clubhouse, grab a bite, shoot the breeze,” Sullivan said. “Now it’s just your foursome and then you go home.”
The restaurant at Derryfield has an outdoor deck, and that is open, Arvanitis said. “People are itching to be out,” he said. “As long as they use their heads. That’s the key.”
Tournament play will be affected by virus-related regulations, and players said their summer plans many be affected.
“It does change a lot of folks’ plans,” Steckowych said. “People who were planing on participating in the U.S. Amateur or Mid-Am events” can’t because those have been canceled, as have the New Hampshire and Massachusetts opens.
“For me I don’t think it’s going to change a whole lot,” he added. “I think I’ll probably participate in 80 percent of what I’m used to.”
“I’ll play everything I usually do,” Arvanitis said. “I’ll play the same schedule I normally do.”
“We’ll see how things go,” Pleat said. “There’s probably less things to play in but that’s fine. ... I’ll play a couple of the usual ones and there’s some in the fall, assuming that things work out.”
Arvanitis coaches the Derryfield School golf team and his son Matt coaches the men’s and women’s teams at Southern New Hampshire University. He wonders if there will be a fall scholastic season.
“That’s up in the air. Hopefully they do (play),” he said.
Golfers have an incentive to continue to observe the social distancing regulations, even if players don’t agree with them all.
“You’ve done so well for so long, you’ve been cautious and keeping your social distance for so long, you don’t want to blow it now,” Sullivan said.