Eagle Bend provides safe outlet for cooped up golfers

by Katie Brown
| April 1, 2020 1:00 AM

Many businesses across the Flathead Valley are closed due to the COVID-19 virus outbreak, including most recreational facilities.

There are very few options for residents who would like to get outside and stretch their legs.

Golf courses are one exception.

Eagle Bend Golf Course opened Friday after receiving permission from the Montana State Golf Association and Governor Steve Bullock’s office to do so. There are handful of states that have not allowed any golf courses to open.

Residents have been advised to shelter in place and avoid unnecessary travel to prevent further spread of the virus, which has already caused four deaths in Montana.

Golf courses, however, seem to be the ideal place to avoid close contact while also enjoying fresh air and getting some exercise.

“Social distancing is already built in,” Eagle Bend’s Director of Golf Mike Wynne said.

Wynne said the PGA of America continually sends lists of best practices for golf courses to adhere to in order to ensure the safety of clients and to prevent further spread of the virus.

This includes golf carts, which will be wiped down and washed after every use. In a letter sent to members of the course before opening day, Wynne urges golfers to only ride in golf carts with members of the same household.

“A lot of members own their own golf cart so it’s going to be their responsibility to maintain the cleanliness there, but everyone’s going to be careful,” Wynne said.

Since the weather is cooler in April, many golfers will choose to walk the course instead of using a cart.

Per PGA directive, food and beverage should be carry-out only and retail sales are prohibited, but since Eagle Bend’s clubhouse burned down Feb. 16, those services are not currently available. Golfers are advised to bring their own refreshments.

“it’s just golf only and that’s the way we’re going to operate,” Wynne said.

The practice tee shed, an 8-foot-by-8-foot structure, is where golfers will check in. Only one employee can fit in the shed at one time. Hand sanitizer will be available and all golfers are advised to stay six feet apart.

“Most golf courses are opening without having any indoor congregation,” Wynne said. “So that’s easy for us.”

Other services will not be available due to sanitation concerns.

Ball washers and bunker rakes will not be available on the course. Flagsticks must be left in the hole and are not to be touched. Each hole will have a PVC ring inside that will allow the ball to go into the hole but not sink to the bottom. That also applies to holes on the putting green.

Handshakes and high fives are discouraged, as is sharing scorecards and pencils.

“For the most part we feel that as an industry that we’re probably of all the places that you can recreate, a golf course is probably one of the safest right now,” Wynne said. “You’re outside, you’re spaced out. There’s not a lot of interaction with other humans. It’s just you and the golf course and the grass. It’s pretty safe and we’re going to take every precaution that we need to, especially because this is our business all through the summer and we don’t want anything to happen to our members and other clients that come through.”

Part of Eagle Bend’s temporary setup includes restroom facilities. The temporary restroom is in a trailer that is hooked up to water and sewer. There is an employee assigned to clean the restroom facility frequently.

Around 35 golfers turned out on Friday’s opening day and Mark Holm recorded his first-ever hole in one.

Snow showers are in the forecast this week and Wynne expects turnout to be lower than usual due to the weather conditions, somewhere in the range of 20 to 30 golfers per day.

“I think people are tired of being cooped up,” Wynne said. “If they can be outdoors in a safe manner, that’s what we hope to provide for them. If something comes down that says what we’re doing is dangerous or risks more infection, then we’re obviously going to shut down and do what they tell us to do.”

Eagle Bend’s hours are 10 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily. Guest rates are $40 for 18 holes and $25 for nine holes through April 23. ■

photo

Mostly charred remains are all that was left after a fire destroyed the Eagle Bend Golf Club in Bigfork early Sunday morning on Feb. 16, 2020. (Scott Shindledecker/Daily Inter Lake)