Albertans Back In The Swing Of Things


EDMONTON, Alberta — From the pro shop loudspeaker came the most welcome word in the world, at least to golfers in Wild Rose Country, “Next on the first tee, the province of Alberta.”

Even on an overcast, cool day in Alberta’s capital, smiles lit up the golfing landscape all across the province on April 30 when the provincial government finally declared the sport an open industry. This followed the openings of courses all across the country, save for Ontario and Quebec.

Premier Jason Kenney announced the long anticipated good news at the daily COVID-19 up-date, where among other things, he indicated golf would once again take to the grass on Saturday, May 2 (later changed to Monday, May 4, then again changed back to the original date) with certain restrictions in place. Those included no clubhouse or pro shop services until phase one of the relaunch program begins on May 14.

In making said announcement, the premier was brief and to the point, “Golf courses will be al-lowed to open as early as this weekend, weather and conditions permitting. However, clubhouses and pro shops will remain closed ….”

The president of the Alberta chapter of the NAGA (National Allied Golf Association), Robert Rousselle, clarified how courses will operate by releasing this statement, “We are excited and support the Government of Alberta position on this afternoon’s announcement. The National Al-lied Golf Association of Alberta (NAGA-AB’s) role from day one was to be part of the solution at all levels. We worked closely with all segments of our industry and government to support them with the proper tools to be successful with the prevention of COVID-19 challenges. The opening of the golf industry is a positive step forward in helping Albertans with mental health, physical activity and the recovery of our provincial economy. I have to congratulate the NAGA-AB team for the determination and accomplishment for the past month of hard work to develop a robust document to protect our guests, members and industry employees.”

Bruce McAllister, the point man for NAGA-AB in talks with the province’s elected officials, likely felt the industry and public relief that came with the government’s announcement was tantamount to acing the toughest par-3 hole at your home course.

“It’s been rewarding as heck for all the time we put in,” he stated. “I think the premier and the government realized golf could be part of the solution to our physical and mental health issues we’re facing.”

All the work put forth by the NAGA-AB group bore plenty of fruit, as the platform they presented was essentially the blueprint for the guidelines the government and their health experts set out for courses to follow when opening.

“We put an enormous amount of time and thought into that protocol we created. It was widely regarded as the best protocol available. What the government said was, ‘We’re going to trust industry to do what they do, adhering to all the regulations and requirements from Alberta Health and we’re going to trust they can do this.’ Obviously, this protocol is going to make that possible.”

As to the importance of bringing the game back to the masses, McAllister noted, “You could literally see it on the faces of the people as they got to the golf course, even the people that work there. It was like one collective exhale. Really, it was just a bit of normalcy. We’ve been cooped up a long time. And economically, we’ve been hit hard by all this … so to put some people back to work, get some commerce going again, allow people to spend a few bucks and enjoy them-selves, this is a winner!”

Also speaking to the success of having the government allow golf to be an early part of the provincial relaunch program, Alberta Golf’s executive director, and a member of the NAGA - AB group, Phil Berube said, “We worked tirelessly on this for the past month and I’m confident that the protocols we put in place are the best practices that Alberta Health Services are going to look at as industry-leading and commend us for the work we’ve done for keeping people safe on golf courses.”

Berube explained that on May 1, a conference call spearheaded by NAGA - AB was held where over 170 golf course operators took part, to hear about what rules and regulations needed to be followed for the safety of everyone heading out looking for birdies. And early indications are those are being adhered to everywhere, with no complaints.

Now, about those clubs swinging into action: It didn’t take long for word to spread about the re-opening date and that was evidenced by the number of tee time requests at layouts around Alberta. Thus, most courses were scrambling to keep up with eager tee time seekers.

Gord Brayton, the head pro at the Vulcan G&CC said he and his staff had been inundated with requests from people looking to dig divots. “Has this been an emotional roller-coaster or what?” he began. “The phones and emails just haven't stopped.”

Having the course set up and ready to go when they got the all-clear from the government, the southern Alberta course teed things up on Saturday with a soft opening for members and guests only. That changed on Monday, May 4, when the public was allowed access. Tee time spacing, which would run between 10 and 12 minutes, wouldn’t be an issue, said Brayton, noting that members would keep an eye on things along with a player attendant who’d be making the rounds to ensure the COVID-19 social distancing rules were being followed.

A little north in Calgary, it was reported on Twitter that courses run by the City of Calgary weren’t ready to open given the fact that many of the season workers hired by them had been laid off, due to coronavirus concerns. However, other courses in the city were ready to go and as such swung into action. Like everyone, they found themselves flooded with booking re-quests.

In Edmonton, one popular layout saw a dramatic upswing in demands for tee time slots, as the Ranch G&CC had their online booking site crash. Murray McCourt, the GM, said their first-day times were gone in 13 minutes.

“Was crazy,” he wrote in an email response about demand. “Crashed our online system as many people were trying to book the exact same tee time at the exact same time,” causing the disruption. That issue has now been fixed. “Been nuts!” he ended.

At Eagle Rock GC, head pro Chad Rumple said in a Global TV interview he was inundated as well with people calling to see when his track would open. He went on to say that before that happened he wanted proper protocol signage to be in place and as such, suggested the course would likely open around mid-May.

In Stony Plain, at the municipally owned course, things were incredibly hectic, said Executive Professional Jeff Cuthbertson, reached on his private cell phone number rather than his place of business for a very simple reason.

“We had over 700 phone calls! We had three lines ringing at the same time and calls stacked five- and six-deep, on hold,” he explained, adding the number of calls was accurate because they have a call-counter on their lines. It was expected that Stony would open for bookings on May 2, and for play sometime later in the week on their course that features great new greens.

Cuthbertson added the slight delay in opening was because they were caught a bit off-guard by the sudden turn of events because there hadn’t been any real indication of when the season’s start date would be. “Truthfully, we were thinking it would be a May 15 to June 1 start. We didn’t expect it to be quite this quick.”

In small town Alberta where golf can be the hub of activity in the warmer months, at the West-lock GC new head pro Adam Pederson also found himself in a landslide of tee time requests. He was handicapped by being alone at the shop so handling the flood of requests was over-whelming.

Pederson wasn’t exactly sure of an opening date, and when that happens it will, “Be only to members,” in order to make sure they’re doing things properly with the protocols put in place. “We want to make sure we’re flawless. We don’t want to be the ones that screw this up.”

Late Friday evening the anticipated protocols set forth by the government came through to courses, and are listed below. They include all areas of operation from grounds crews to pro shop to restaurant staff. Most, if not all courses, have indicated they would likely do more than needed to ensure the game of golf can be played all summer long, now that it has finally been allowed to tee off in Alberta.

Here are the guidelines set down by the Minister of Health and other government officials that courses must follow: