‘We’re just kind of holding our breath right now’: Private clubs in Illinois shut down as golf community struggles with effects of coronavirus

Tribune Content Agency

CHICAGO — Golfers at private clubs around Chicago will not be playing through.

Officials at three private clubs contacted by the Tribune all said they would abide by the latest directive by the governor’s office to return the woods and wedges to storage.

A Thursday revision to the governor’s stay-at-home Executive Order deemed golf courses as “recreational sports businesses” that need to close, reversing a decision two days earlier.

“We are respecting that directive,” said Jeff Mory, the head professional at Conway Farms, the Lake Forest course that has hosted three BMW Championships. “It is my understanding and our position at Conway that the Governors’ directive is for all golf courses — public, private, municipal — to be closed at this time.”

Brian Morrison, the director of golf at Olympia Fields, said: “We don’t have any choice. We’ve sent messages to our members that these orders are coming from the top. We have to be good citizens.”

Sun-starved golfers Wednesday flocked to the Village Links of Glen Ellyn, a public course in the western suburbs. They followed new social distancing guidelines that called for walking only (no carts), paying by credit card and no touching of the flagstick. There were no bunker rakes or ball washers and some courses even raised the liner cups above ground, changing the definition of a made putt.

One of the approximate 300 who played Wednesday called it “the happiest I’ve been in 10 days.”

The golf industry is reeling from the effects of COVID-19. Village Links general manager Jeff Vesevick said that being open Wednesday allowed him to put a dozen employees to work. In midseason, the course employs 120 people.

Officials at courses nationwide have been dealing with vague and changing directives from state leaders as was expressed in a Golf Digest story published Friday quoting club officials in South Carolina and Illinois.

Park Ridge Country Club president Steve Hands told the magazine: “Things have been pretty confusing over the past week. The order that came from the governor wasn’t very clear as it relates to golf, so we stayed open. Then we were asked to close. We weren’t ordered to, but were asked to and we did, because we want to abide by what’s intended.”

The latest directive was attached to a letter delivered to golf industry professionals Thursday afternoon. The letter was signed by four groups, including the Illinois Section PGA and Chicago District Golf Association.

While many are applauding the governor’s decision to keep Illinois citizens indoors, several readers contacted the Tribune to voice their disappointment.

Wrote Steve Miethe: “This is outrageous. Shutting down the golf courses is the most idiotic thing I’ve ever heard. Is there a petition that we could start and get a million signatures to protest this wrongdoing?”

Mory, who oversees the golf operations at Conway Farms, said: “We hope this might ease soon, as golf is one of the ultimate ways of activating our bodies and brains while maintaining social distance.”

Olympia Fields is slated to host the BMW Championship, a FedEx Cup playoff event on the PGA Tour, from Aug. 20-23.

Two golf majors have been officially postponed, with the Masters (April) and PGA Championship (May) seeking potential dates in the fall. The New York Post reported that the U.S. Open (June) will be postponed. The (British) Open Championship is still scheduled for July 16-19.

Morrison said of the timing of the BMW Championship: “That’s up to the tour and Western Golf Association. We’re just kind of holding our breath right now. I’m a golfer, so I’m optimistic of course.”


©2020 Chicago Tribune

Visit the Chicago Tribune at www.chicagotribune.com

Distributed by Tribune Content Agency, LLC.