Finley Golf Course remains open for business despite COVID-19, and continues to provide a practice space for the UNC golf teams after making adjustments to its operations to keep golfers safe and limit common points of contact.
Steps taken include removing bunker rakes, ball washers, water coolers, trash cans, scorecards and pencils. Additional adjustments include a one person per cart protocol, limiting occupancy at putting greens and making payment contactless and socially distant.
“I think we did a phenomenal job of making people feel safe right from the beginning,” Finley Director of Golf Michael Wilkinson said. “We’ve adopted a more strict policy on how we are doing things.”
After a three-month-long shutdown, Finley reopened in June and slowly began to move back to normal operations for the driving range, golf course, golf shop and bathrooms. Eventually, though on a smaller scale, the food and beverage operations reopened and began serving a reduced menu to guests.
But the golf course, which used to open at 7 a.m., now doesn't allow tee times until 9 a.m. to give its smaller staff enough time to prepare for the day.
“I don’t think it can be appreciated, unless you work at a golf course, the degree to which it requires a great degree of staffing," Wilkinson said.
Making adjustments to keep golfing safe at Finley presented several challenges for Wilkinson and the staff. Keeping up to date with different adaptations to play within the state and within the area was difficult for Finley because there wasn’t a set standard for operating safely under the threat of COVID-19, Wilkinson said. Enforcing social distancing rules also proved to be difficult because of the social nature a golf course fosters, he said.
Still, Wilkinson pointed out that the golf industry is uniquely equipped to adapt to anything, especially a pandemic.
“We are adaptive by nature in the PGA profession,” Wilkinson said. “You probably could’ve asked no other industry to face a pandemic and face the problems that it would bring and realize that golf professionals such as ourselves would be able to adapt to these different procedures in a way that kept the game moving forward and people playing the game.”
Additionally, UNC men’s golf head coach Andrew DiBitetto said golf naturally accommodates social distancing.
“We didn’t even know the term social distancing, but we were already doing it,” DiBitetto said. “Just because of the width of someone’s golf swing, you’re not standing two or three feet next to someone; you’re already six to 10 feet away from them.”
Finley continues to host both the UNC men’s and women’s golf teams for practice at the Chapman Golf Center, a practice area designated for the teams. Both teams have made some minor adjustments to their practice routines, such as coaching staff ensuring social distancing and following the three W’s.
The teams haven’t needed to adjust their practice routines in large part due to the precaution and diligence of the Finley staff, women’s head coach Jan Mann said.
“We did adjust our practice schedule slightly,” Mann said. “... Nothing that has happened at Finley has changed anything. We’ve just made adjustments since we’re not playing in tournaments as a team.”
While tournaments and large gatherings inside the Finley Clubhouse won’t likely happen anytime soon, Wilkinson believes Finley is slowly approaching normal.
“As doctors and researchers continue to learn more about this virus and continue to learn more about its life expectancy on certain surfaces, I think we’ll continue to kind of come back a little bit,” Wilkinson said.
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