Golfers flock to courses as they reopen

DOWAGIAC — Despite Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s extention of  the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” executive order, southwest Michigan golf courses let out a respective sigh of relief as she announced that golf courses could reopen, among other things, Friday.

According to Executive Order 2020-59, which extended “Stay Home, Stay Safe” through May 15, people may now leave their homes and travel as necessary to engage in outdoor recreational activities such as golf, walking, hiking, running, cycling, boating and other similar activities.

The Michigan Golf Alliance, which includes the Golf Association of Michigan, received communications from the governor’s office that golfers must adhere to the following guidelines:

• All individuals who leave their home or place of residence must adhere to social distancing measures recommended by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, including remaining at least 6 feet from people from outside the individual’s household to the extent feasible under the circumstances.

• Golf carts are not allowed until further notice.

With rain, wind and cold temperatures on Saturday, area golf courses really did not see much action until Sunday when sunny skies and temperatures surpassing 60 degrees greeted are golfers.

Susie Gendron at the Dowagiac Elks Golf Course said the course did not open until Sunday due to the weather on Saturday.

“We have had a lot of people our walking the course today,” she said Sunday afternoon. “They are excited to be out there walking the course. We are working with a volunteer crew as we are a fraternal organization. We are looking forward to seeing more people out here soon.”

At Indian Lake Hills Golf Course, owner Susy Vanderberg was also pleased to be reopening. Indian Lake Hills was one of the courses that opened briefly earlier in April before the first extension of the “Stay Home, Stay Safe” closed down many businesses, including golf courses.

“We are doing fine. There are a lot of walkers out there,” she said. “It is kind of fun to see people out there huffing and puffing as they walk around the golf course. We are getting a lot of the kids. The athletes are out there playing golf.”

Vanderberg said people are adapting to the current rules quickly.

“We have a few people who have lightened their bags and are out there playing three to six holes, or something like that. They are just out there enjoying the sunshine.”

The weather forecast is a mixed bag this week, so Vandenberg is hoping that by the weekend, things improve and more people will get out and golf, which she believes will help improve the mental health of those who are feeling the cabin fever of being stuck in doors.

“Everybody is thrilled to get out,” she said. “We have had a few families, and then we have the buddies kind of getting together. Obviously, they cannot meet at their friend’s house, but they meet out here at the golf course and at least walk around and talk and get caught up.”

In Cassopolis, at Diamond Lake Golf Course, business was steady. As there are no special hours, golfers could show up in the morning and play until dusk.

“People are excited,” said Adrian Butrick. “They kept asking if today was the first day and when the ice cream was going to be inside.”

The calls started coming in on Friday at Brookwood Golf Course in Buchanan as soon as the governor announced she was allowing play to begin.

“We had about 40 golfers out here on Friday,” said Joe Thomas, owner and PGA professional at Brookwood. “It was a little cold out there, but they were chomping at the bit to play.”

Thomas said the course was extremely busy on Sunday as the weather improved.

“People are like ‘we are free at last,’” he said. “I will say people were in a good mood today. People have been really happy. They have been very cooperative in social distancing. People are staying away from each other. We are spreading out our tee times further — just commonsense stuff.”

Brookwood is operating under its normal hours.