by Jim Boyle
The phones at the Elk River Golf Club and Pinewood Golf Course in Elk River begin ringing incessantly after Gov. Tim Walz announced Friday, April 17, that Minnesota could reopen its golf courses at 5 a.m. Saturday, April 18.
Among those calls that Chris Singer, the general manager of ERGC who also manages Pinewood for the city of Elk River, fielded was one from Dan Tveite, a member of “The Sweeps” group, who regularly sweep the dew off the course’s grass and greens early on Saturday and Sunday mornings when the Elk River Golf Club is normally open for business.
These are not normal times, however.
“Is it true?” Tveite asked Singer of the news he heard.
“It is,” Singer replied.
The now smiling golfer told Singer: “We want tee times.”
By day’s end, Tveite rounded up 25 golfers who were ready with little or no notice of the surprise opening. Singer said on the morning of April 18 ERGC was at 92% capacity for tee times. Pinewood had about 60 rounds of golf secured and was still filling in.
“I figured we’d open on April 24, like Wisconsin,” Singer said, adding his belief got even stronger when he heard a bipartisan group of governors was banding together.
The news of opening was welcome but didn’t give Singer or Cory Pike, the head professional at ERGC, and Kandi Selthofner, the assistant manager at Pinewood, much time for working out kinks.
The doors to the clubhouses at the Elk River Golf Club and Pinewood remained closed. There were no snacks or merchandise for sale at Pinewood, and similarly, there would be no meals eaten or drinks swilled in the ERGC clubhouse.
Singer decided by 10 a.m. April 17 to avoid kinks and focus on getting people on the course for their springtime passion. There would be no carts for rent (they would need to be sanitized before every use) and no driving range. The focus would be on golf and social distancing.
“We’re going more restrictive than we have to be until we sort out the safe and efficient way to do everything,” Singer said. “It’s all about being responsible to the community.”
Singer directed people to online registration and payment system. The conversations on the phone were short and sweet, and before they were finished the phone was usually ringing again.
“People were just happy we were opening,” Singer said.
Golf buddies Mike Morine and Derrick Olson, who golf three times a week during the golf season, had tee times within an hour of finding out the course would be open.
They joked amongst one another that Olson came in the same work attire he uses for his job on the business side of health care while he works from home.
“It was a good surprise that it opened,” Morine said. “We’re cooped up enough in Minnesota.”
Tveite and others from Elk River were supposed to travel to Scotland for a two-week golf tour of British Open courses. The group would have recently returned from the trip had it not been for the worldwide pandemic.
After finishing his first round of golf of the year at the Elk River Golf Club, Tveite reflected, “I can’t think of many times I have looked forward to a round of golf more than this, and we had like 12 hours’ notice.”
Singer figures he could have opened the Elk River courses about April 5 had they not been closed in mid-March in response to COVID-19. An April 24 opening would have been the third latest opening in 10 years.
“I was OK with it being delayed until May 4, if that is what it was going to be,” Singer said. “But once other things started opening up, like allowing four guys in a boat, it was getting to a point where people were going to have start defending why they’re not opening up golf.”