For about a month, Owasso’s Bailey Ranch Golf Club has been one of the few courses around who have kept its doors open during the coronavirus pandemic.
Bailey Ranch is one of only three public golf courses in the metropolitan area along with Broken Arrow-based courses Battle Creek and Forest Ridge who have remained in business since Tulsa’s shelter-in-place orders in late March led to others closing down in the midst of the outbreak.
“We felt like one we had the support of the city council,” Director of Golf Corey Burd said. “They felt like it was a good outdoor outlet. And I personally feel like golf lends itself to social distancing.”
Burd said the feedback from the public has been mostly positive.
“Most people are super excited. They’re thankful we’re open,” he said. “We know some people disagree with our stance to stay open but people aren’t required to come out and play.”
Burd said he and his staff took a number of precautions in order to keep the course open.
One of the main focuses, according to Burd, was to “alleviate touch points” around the course. In order to do so, a majority of the doors around the club are propped open. Single-rider carts are mandated for those on the course. Tee times have been extended from nine- to 15-minute intervals to increase distance between groups on the course and decrease the traffic in the pro shop before and after each playing round.
Fivesomes on the course are only allowed if someone is walking or they are providing their own golf cart. Course-owned carts are sanitized after each usage.
Patrons are also encouraged to pay with credit or debit cards, which they swipe themselves.
Bailey Ranch also has a couple of changes on the greens in order to decrease the number of touch points. The cups are flipped upside down so players can more easily reach their ball. Players are also asked to leave the flag pins in the hole while putting.
Social distance proofing Bailey Ranch comes at a busy time for all golf courses as the weather gradually gets warmer. Burd said while there is an emphasis on getting the course ready for the season, he has also taken additional steps to keep his employees safe. A couple of Bailey Ranch employees who had traveled out of state were quarantined immediately following their return while higher-risk employees have been limited in their exposure with the public.
“We’re in the stage of our season where we ramp up,” Burd said “The grass starts growing and our maintenance and grounds crews are busy. But our employees safety, that was high on our list. We wanted to make sure they stayed safe and healthy.”
A benefit for being one of the few public courses who have remained open, Burd said Bailey Ranch has seen an increase of about 10 rounds per day this April from last year at the same time. The combination of a slight uptick in rounds played and stretched out tee times has the course booked up nearly a week out.
“It’s reminiscent of golf in the 90s when supply and demand was in advantage of the golf courses,” Burd said. “You had to plan ahead. Now they call and they want to play tomorrow or they call and want to play this afternoon. We have tee times through 5 or 6 p.m. for the next five or six days.”
As other courses, both public and private, begin to reopen around the Tulsa area within the next few weeks, Burd said he expects those numbers to decline.
“We’ve had good traffic when the weather has been good,” Burd said. “But we’re not doing any of our weekend tournaments, things we typically do. Those are our bigger moneymakers. And we likely won’t through May …. With public courses about to open back up, that’s where we’ll see where we stand. But I expect rounds to be a little lower.”
The COVID-19 impact is like nothing Burd has ever seen in the golf industry.
“We’ve had some economic things, 9/11 and in the recession 2008 are a couple that come to mind from a golf business standpoint,” he said. “But not on a scale like this. It builds a lot of perspective on what’s important. The golfers that have been coming to the golf course, they’re just glad to get out. I’ve seen more people walking the course, enjoying nature.”