Duncan Meadows was the first golf course in the Cowichan Valley to re-open after closing due to COVID-19. Several other courses have since followed suit. (Citizen file)

Duncan Meadows was the first golf course in the Cowichan Valley to re-open after closing due to COVID-19. Several other courses have since followed suit. (Citizen file)

Cowichan Valley golf courses reopen under strict guidelines

Social distancing emphasized as golfers return to action

By and large, sports have been grounded by the COVID-19 pandemic, but golfers are making a slow return to the links while observing social distancing and other health and safety protocols.

There was never a directive from the provincial health officer to close golf courses due to COVID-19, but most on the Island did so anyway after BC Golf chief executive officer Kris Jonasson sent a letter to Dr. Bonnie Henry requesting the closure of all B.C. golf courses in late March.

Duncan Meadows became the first golf course in the Cowichan Valley to reopen when it did so on April 8, under very strict guidelines. Other local courses are following their lead, or making plans to do so.

Duncan Meadows is following rules and regulations recommended by the National Golf Course Owners Association Canada to make sure everyone at the course is safe, and the response has been positive, according to Ming Hui, who owns the course with his wife, Grace.

“People are very appreciative that we are making an attempt to open,” he said. “We believe golf works well with social distancing. Because we’re on a large property, people can space out very easily.”

The course has been busy since reopening, even though there are longer intervals between tee times to keep groups farther apart. The pro shop is the only part of the course open, and only one golfer is allowed in at a time to check in.

“We really push physical distancing,” Hui said. “The authorities say six feet, but we recommend 10 to 20 feet.”

Portable washrooms have been removed, and only washrooms with running water are open, with hot water and soap for hand washing. Golfers aren’t permitted to touch flags, and cups are inverted so golfers don’t have to reach in to retrieve their balls.

The precautions go beyond that. Among other things, extra staff is on hand to make sure touch points are sanitized throughout the day, baskets at the driving range are sanitized, and marshals are on the course to monitor and enforce protocols.

The Cowichan Golf & Country Club has also reopened to members.

“We are open to members at this point and making sure that the safety protocols are working, so that we can feel we are in a safe environment for both members and staff,” head pro Norm Jackson said. “We want to make sure it is safe.”

March Meadows at Honeymoon Bay opened on Monday for members and their guests. All members have been advised of rules and regulations to follow, and staff members are monitoring golfers. As with Duncan Meadows, the response has been positive, with no issues.

Mount Brenton in Chemainus will reopen for members this Friday (April 17), and for members and guests on Monday (April 20). Mount Brenton president Art Kendall said there was considerable consultation with provincial health care officials and local politicians like North Cowichan Mayor Al Siebring before arriving at the decision.

“There seems to be support for the golf industry if they observe safety protocols,” Kendall noted.

Small groups of two to four people should be able to maintain social distance, he said.

“If they come and head out on the course and when they finish they head out and leave, it’s no different than walking on the Trans-Canada Trail or whatever,” Kendall reasoned.

Duncan Meadows’ Hui pointed out the benefits of being outdoors and on a golf course, bringing golfers some familiarity in an uncertain time.

“Players that have been here are so thankful that we have made the effort to be open. This is a stressful time for everyone. It’s reassuring for them to feel comfortable and be out on the golf course.”

With files from Don Bodger