Auburn Hills Golf Club blocks holes to help stop virus spread


By Marty Gordon

Golf courses are taking their own precautions when it comes to limiting the spread of the coronavirus. While some courses are staying open thanks to some creative measures that include practicing social distancing in an outdoor setting, others have closed.

Auburn Hills Golf Club in Riner is one of the facilities that remains open, and to do so, the club has taken an unusual step to encumber the spread of the coronavirus: It has blocked its holes.

“Golf has been a welcome escape for some during uncertain times, providing an outlet where participants can get exercise outdoors while being able to avoid close interaction with others,” said Bobby Clarke, the Auburn Hills grounds superintendent.

Photo by Marty Gordon
Grounds superintendent Bobby Clarke points to a special precaution Auburn Hills Golf Club has taken to deal with the coronavirus.  A pipe blocks each hole at the Riner course.

Clarke knows the precautions and the virus are “unchartered territories” for facilities like his, and the future could be unpredictable.

“We have tried to eliminate commonly touched areas like the flag staff,” Clarke said. To do that,

Auburn has installed a three-inch pipe on top of each cup to prevent the ball from going into the hole. In addition, rakes have been eliminated from each bunker.

“We eliminated things that individual hands would touch,” Clarke said

Courses across the country have taken similar steps to remain open.

“The benefit that golf has is that it’s the perfect sport for social distancing. It’s relatively easy to keep your distance,” said KemperSports CEO Steve Skinner.

As one of the industry’s largest golf management companies, KemperSports operates more than 120 courses from well-known resorts such as Bandon Dunes (Oregon), Streamsong (Florida) and Sand Valley (Wisconsin) to successful municipal facilities on either coast.

“In our markets in the country where the weather is good, the golf courses have been very busy, which is really interesting,” Skinner said. “I think everyone is kind of feeling their way. And it’s an incredibly fluid situation that’s changing by the hour within a lot of jurisdictions. But for the most part, the vast majority of our facilities are open for play, and we’re taking special precautions to make sure our guests and staff are safe and healthy,” he said.

The National Golf Foundation says the biggest challenge for operators may be how to successfully operate in an environment perhaps best described as ‘What’s-coming-next?’

Clarke considers the golf course a safe place for the public, and the response to the precautions has been positive. In addition, the “quarantine” situation has many people looking for ways to get out of the house.

“We have seen more people outside on the course in the past week. Golf is a great outlet for everyone,” the grounds superintendent said.

Of course, the raised cup has changed the way golfers putt. Clarke said it has made them more aggressive since all they have to do is hit the cup.

“I just hope they can adjust when we take the pipe out later on,” he joked.

Other ideas for social distancing and being safe on the golf course include players using their own pen or pencil when signing into the competition book; not exchanging scorecards, tees, balls and ball markers; leaving the pin in and not touching it; dropping the sportsmanship practice of shaking hands; and washing hands before and after each round.