When golfers tee off at the Chilliwack Golf Club this year, a device called a ‘Pin Caddy’ will help them retrieve their ball from the cup without reaching in with their hand. (Black Press file photo)

When golfers tee off at the Chilliwack Golf Club this year, a device called a ‘Pin Caddy’ will help them retrieve their ball from the cup without reaching in with their hand. (Black Press file photo)

Chilliwack Golf Club gets ready for another COVID-impacted season

Pandemic protocols remain in place, but people are eager to get outside and golf

With arctic outflow winds swirling around Chilliwack this week, it’s hard to imagine golf season being just around the corner.

But it is, and local courses are getting ready.

Golf is one of the few sports that is ideal for physically-distant play, with wide open spaces providing more than enough room to stay two metres away from other golfers.

But golf hasn’t been immune to COVID-19 impact.

Brennan Walker, tournament sales coordinator at the Chilliwack Golf Club (CGC), said the provincial health orders restricting large gatherings continue to affect the way golf clubs do business.

“What we’re trying to do is create a great experience that people can do in a safe way,” Walker said. “We had our challenges with that at first.”

The most popular way to hold tourneys pre-COVID was with a shotgun start, with groups of players teeing off at the same time from different holes.

But with restrictions on large gatherings in place, that created a problem, with too many people in one place at the start and end of a tournament.

“We decided it would be best to go to a tee-time format, with groups hitting the course with a certain amount of time between them,” Walker noted.

In the early days of the pandemic, the intervals were set at 15 minutes.

“But we found we could go down to a nine-minute interval and still maintain social distancing,” Walker said. “That was the main hurdle we had to overcome.”

Other COVID measures put in place in 2020 included something called a ‘Pin Caddy.’

“We still have our flags on the greens, but we added this little contraption that goes into the cup,” Walker explained. “Rather than lift the flag out, you can use your putter to lift up a little lever and your ball pops out of the hole.

“We’re also having golfers arrive no earlier than 30 minutes before their tee time, which lets us limit capacity at the driving range and in the parking lot.”

Tournaments usually come with sponsors, who like to set up along the course and talk to golfers as they play through.

“Maybe they’re providing food and beverage stations or doing a game of some sort,” Walker said. “We still let them do that provided they wear masks and gloves and follow COVID safety policies.”

A huge part of tournaments is the social aspect, and most events come with a banquet afterwards.

“It’s typically a dinner with an auction and speeches and a lot of tournaments have gone virtual with that,” Walker said. “You have an online auction that’s open the entire day, and it’s still a great way to create funds.”

One new innovation being introduced this year at CGC is live tournament scoring through Golf Genius.

Walker said golfers will be able to track the leaderboard through an app on their phones.

“One player per group can keep score and you’ll have the live leaderboard all the way through,” Walker said. “With a shotgun tournament, you’d see the leaderboard at the end, but with the tee-time format it’s a little more difficult to see where you rank.

“We think this will be a good feature to add.”

Walker has been pleasantly surprised at the lack of push back from organizations.

Most of those that usually hold tourneys at CGC have re-booked for 2021 and in Walker’s talks with individual golfers, they seem to understand the current landscape.

“People are just happy and thankful to be able to golf,” Walker said. “People needed something to do and found golf as an option and we saw a ton of new golfers come out last year.”