Golf picture still murky in Minnesota

Hole No. 1 at GreatLIFE Golf and Fitness Club in Worthington is green and inviting. But golfers are still unable to tee up as Minnesotans practice social distancing. (Doug Wolter/The Globe)

To play? Or not to play? That is the question Minnesota golfers are asking themselves in the second week of April.

And if so, how?

As golfers and golf course workers, too -- with both eyes peeled on the weather -- anxiously long to return to their normal spring schedules, they’ve been waiting to get the go-ahead from the State of Minnesota. When Gov. Tim Walz ordered that non-essential businesses be closed while the coronavirus remains a serious threat, the order included golf courses.

On Wednesday, golf enthusiasts carefully awaited the latest word from St. Paul, where Walz updated his stay-at-home order that was scheduled to expire on Friday. There emerged no notable change for golf, however, except that maintenance workers have been given clearance to toil on their grounds.

Some golf courses are open now in Iowa and in South Dakota while social distancing guidelines are being rigorously followed. Meanwhile, Minnesota waits. Places where golfers normally gather, like pro shops, bars and restaurant areas, were still closed this week. Worthington’s GreatLIFE Golf and Fitness Club, along with other southwest Minnesota venues, practice patience.


Ben Johnson, general manager and head golf professional at GreatLIFE, said Wednesday that he waits along with the rest -- while striving to be ready when the course is cleared to open.

“Currently, our fitness center, golf course and dining area are closed through May 1 according to the state mandate,” he said.

There have been a limited amount of calls to the country club inquiring about golfing opportunities, he added, saying that the club keeps in touch with linksters through emails and Facebook messages.

Meanwhile, the Minnesota PGA and the Minnesota Golf Association have continued lobbying to get courses open.

In Worthington, GreatLIFE has considered removing ball washers, benches, and markers on tee boxes in order to limit opportunities for coronavirus to spread. The removal of water bottles and coolers on golf carts have been discussed for the same reasons. Meanwhile, workers are getting their supplies ready for the season. They’re sanitizing carts while preparing for “best practices” to limit person-to-person contact.

As the weather improves, more thoughts naturally turn to golf.

“It’s that time of the year to get out there and enjoy the fresh air,” Johnson said. “It’s disappointing (to wait), but I understand what’s going on.

“Everybody’s itching. And obviously, having a few days in the 60s, it doesn’t help anything,” he added.


At the members-owned Slayton Country Club, manager James Wajer says he has spotted a few people out walking the course -- for the most part, though, keeping a safe distance.

People still need exercise, and the golf course is a wide-open space where they currently don’t have to worry about getting hit by a stray tee shot.

Wajer checks the clubhouse, making sure nothing’s been broken and nothing’s gone missing, while ensuring that workers are ready to go to work according to state guidelines.

“We’ve got one of the nicest springs we’ve had in a long time,” he said. “And all we can do is sit and watch it.”


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