golf courses photo

More students have picked up the clubs since returning to Spokane as a way to get outside with friends in a socially distant manner.

Finding ways to stay active during a time of quarantine and lockdown can be challenging. With gyms only open to a certain extent, home workouts have been increasingly popular, but those are not always effective. Trying a new sport can be fun, but social distancing has seemingly nixed out that idea.

Well, maybe not actually.

“A lot of people are taking up golf because they can’t do anything else,” said Doug Phares, general manager and head pro at the Indian Canyon Golf Course in Spokane. “It’s a weird phenomenon.”

Phares began seeing new faces on the fairway right after Indian Canyon was able to open on May 5, over a month later than it originally planned.

“Our junior programs have been off the charts because there’s nothing else for kids to do,” he said. “It’s been great.”

All of this has been made possible with newly enforced guidelines and safety protocols that the course has put into place. Hand sanitizers have been placed at all exits and outside of restrooms, while all high-touched surfaces are cleaned every two hours. On the course, shareable items such as ball washers, benches and rakes have been removed to limit the spread of germs. Even grabbing a golf ball out of the hole has been modified.

“We have boosters in the holes that keep the ball from falling in so far, so you don’t have to remove the flag,” Phares said. 

Tee times have also been spread out to every four to five minutes for twosomes, while foursomes are only allowed if they are from the same household. Single players are encouraged to play with each other but are not required. 

Access to the driving range has also been changed, as players who have a tee time within 30 minutes are allowed into hitting areas while keeping a 10-foot distance from others. 

“Golf is pretty good for social distancing,” Phares said. “People are accustomed to what they’re supposed to do.”

While there are not many risks involved on the green itself, Professional Golf Association (PGA) tournaments still pose safety concerns, resulting in many cancelations and postponements. The Indian Canyon Golf Course was slated to host the Franz Bakery Pro-Am at the Rosauers Open in July, but that will no longer be happening. The Rosauers Open Invitational has also been cancelled, which was also supposed to occur in July.

“We’re back at it next year,” Phares said. “2020 is almost a lost year for that kind of stuff.”

Despite no PGA events, the Spokane City Golf Championship was held during the last weekend of August. The three-round event featured a few Gonzaga University participants, including Cole Heinsen, a junior majoring in management information systems.

“It was a good time out there, especially playing with all of my good buddies and watching them play,” Heinsen said.

Heinsen, who enjoys playing at courses all over the Spokane region, has also noticed the game’s growing interest.

“Courses are more busy than usual,” he said. “But not so bad that you can’t get a tee time.”

Most GU students will spend their time at the driving range or putting greens, according to Phares, especially during the summer. The beginning of May would normally bring in a lot of seniors and their parents with graduation around the corner, not this year. But with school starting, Phares expects to see students back on the fairway. 

Members of the GU men’s golf team also make regular appearances at the course, usually right before their season starts.

“We see those players a lot,” Phares said. “We have an arrangement with the team on the practice range, so I see them frequently out here.” 

However, with a bleak forecast on the outlook of Division I fall sports this year, Phares doesn’t expect the same turnout from the GU team like he has had in the past, with the exception of a few players every now and again.

“They come up and practice, just not as a unit,” Phares said. “Maybe two or three of them at a time, it’s not a formal thing at all.”

With a majority of sports suffering through what feels like an endless shutdown, golf has been able to thrive under unprecedented circumstances, as people have started taking up the gentlemen’s game for fun.

Cole Forsman is a staff writer. Follow him on Twitter @CGForsman.

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