COVID-19 prompting more locals to go golfing

The Fairfield Golf and Country Club has remained active through the pandemic.

Even while most businesses have slowed down or shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, golf courses like the Fairfield Golf & Country Club have reported a surge in attendance. (Photo courtesy of Hal Masover)
Even while most businesses have slowed down or shut down during the COVID-19 pandemic, golf courses like the Fairfield Golf & Country Club have reported a surge in attendance. (Photo courtesy of Hal Masover)

FAIRFIELD — While the restaurant business is reeling from COVID-19, not all sectors of the economy are in the red.

In fact, a few of them are doing better than normal. The virus has canceled indoor events left and right, but certain outdoor activities have never been more popular. Suzan Kessel, board president of the Fairfield Golf & Country Club, said a lot of college students who would otherwise spend the summer working are instead opting to hit the links.

“They can’t go back to school and they don’t have jobs, so they play golf,” Kessel said. “The course has been busier than I’ve seen it in quite a while.”

Kessel said the course never closed at any point during this pandemic. Golf is a game where social distancing comes easily because it’s played on such a large area she said. Not only that, but Kessel added it provides an opportunity for people who feel stuck indoors to get some fresh air and a sense of normalcy.

There’s another reason patrons have been flocking to the golf course. Three years ago, the city tore up a portion of the course to install a sewer main. For two years, the course was torn up, and last year it nearly went back to normal. Kessel said that this year it’s finally back to its former glory.

“That really didn’t help us over the last three years, but now the grass is growing and it’s all coming back,” Kessel said. “That’s helped with our golfing attendance.”

During construction, the country club reformatted its nine-hole course so that tee boxes were paired with different greens than usual.

“We had several short holes. It was kind of a fun change, but it’s good to have the course back,” Kessel said.

The course has made some policy changes to reduce the spread of COVID-19. For instance, only one person is allowed per cart (unless they’re related). The grounds crew has put foam in the cup so that the ball doesn’t fall in completely. This prevents the golfers from having to remove the pin to retrieve their ball. The rakes from the sand traps have also been removed.

Though the course never closed, its clubhouse did. However, golfers have been able to order drinks from the “19th hole” bar, where they can pay their fees or rent a cart. Also, the bathrooms are still open at the golf and country club.

Kessel said several events including a HER Luncheon had to be canceled in the spring. The last event at the country club was a St. Patrick’s Day Party. But after that, the dining came to a halt. The restaurant side of the business transitioned to providing carryout.

In mid-May, Iowa Gov. Kim Reynolds gave the go-ahead for restaurants in certain counties to reopen at 50 percent capacity, with a number of other restrictions intended to reduce the spread of COVID-19. Kessel said the country club has since reopened its great hall dining area that was previously closed. Its great hall restaurant is available to members only and their guests.

“We spread the tables out really far. We went through the guidelines one by one with our staff to make sure we could do everything, because you have to clean things once an hour,” Kessel said. “You can’t have anything on the table until the diners are seated. On Wednesday, May 13, we opened and had 14 diners.”

Kessel said she expects the restaurant side of the business to remain slow until residents see the COVID-19 numbers drop and feel confident about going out once more. She said there has been special interest in patrons eating on the patio, where social distancing is easier.

“We had several groups who stayed apart from each other [on May 15],” Kessel said. “When it gets nicer, I’m sure we’ll have more of that.”