With many recreational outlets closed due to the coronavirus, golf has proven to be a popular go-to for those looking to escape the real world.
In a time of great uncertainty, golf still remains.
When Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis announced the statewide stay-at-home order in response to the coronavirus, both essential and non-essential businesses were listed — golf was in the former.
The rationale: Golf is considered an essential recreational activity, and with it being such an individualized sport played on vast swaths of open space, it does naturally well in collaboration with social distancing.
But are people really making it out to the courses around the area? The short answer is, “Yes,” said Kenny Ezell, a managing partner at Forest Lake Golf Club in Ocoee.
“Up until this point, it hasn’t really affected us drastically, other than some people are scared to come out with all the dire warnings out there,” Ezell said. “Play has been pretty consistent, as if it were the shoulder season.
“All of our visitors, basically, Canadians and snowbirds, have pretty much gone home — and that is what has affected our business,” he said. “We have lost the last month to month-and-a-half of the snowbird season.”
Most golf courses in the area — from Forest Lake to Bay Hill — are open, though steps have been taken at each course to combat the coronavirus.
At Forest Lake, both the restaurant and bar closed for dine-in, but there is a takeout menu. Meanwhile, on the greens, only one individual is allowed per golf cart — something that will be taxing on the club’s 84 carts, so the club will be offering a walking rate to make up for it. There’s also the “walk nine, ride nine” offer.
At many golf courses — at locations such as MetroWest Golf Club, The Golden Bear Club and Orange County National Golf Center and Lodge — golfers are asked to avoid removing the flags while putting and using the rakes in the bunkers. Luckily for some golfers, there’s an easy fix for that last issue.
“Obviously, if you go into the bunker now and you’re in a footprint, Golden Bear says you can pick up your ball and place it into an area where there isn’t a foot print,” said Susan Wilkinson, a member at Golden Bear. “Just so you can have a nice lie and still hit the ball out of the bunker without being penalized unfairly, because they can’t rake them.”
Wilkinson, who lives in the Orange Tree golf community in Dr. Phillips, is an avid golfer. She recently won the Ladies Club Gross Championship in mid-March at Golden Bear — the last tournament the club hosted before the coronavirus shut things down.
At both Orange Tree and Golden Bear, Wilkinson said she has seen an uptick in attendance — caused by a combination of everything being closed and many being stuck at home. But even with the uptick, many on the course have kept their distance, which has been helped by lengthier spacing between tee times throughout the day.
“Up until this point, it hasn’t really affected us drastically, other than some people are scared to come out with all the dire warnings out there. Play has been pretty consistent, as if it were the shoulder season.
— Kenny Ezell, a managing partner at Forest Lake Golf Club
So, for the most part, being out on the golf course has felt relatively normal — except in one important way, Wilkinson said.
“Does it feel different? I would say only in the ways of celebration,” Wilkinson said. “There is no high-fiving or hugs or handshake, which historically is a huge part of golf — handshaking on the 18th hole. We have all had to improvise and find another way to show our appreciation.”
For golfers such as Wilkinson and Ezell, just the ability to get out and participate in the sport they love means a lot.
The game of golf is providing them with an outlet to shut everything out and enjoy themselves — even if for only an afternoon.
“We think golf is doing what it is supposed to do,” Ezell said. “We’re allowing some opportunities for players to get out and have a little different experience playing golf. I think people are appreciating there is a respite.”