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Longboat Key Wednesday, May 20, 2020 1 year ago

Longboat Key Club golf courses provide normalcy for members

The Key Club's Harbourside and Links golf courses have remained open throughout the coronavirus outbreak.
by: Mark Bergin Staff Writer

The golf courses at the Longboat Key Club have stayed open throughout the pandemic thanks to some basic new rules and broadly accepted tricks of the trade.

“I had one group of guys that came up, and they had a thank-you card for me, and they said that, ‘By keeping this golf course open, you saved a lot of marriages,’” Golf Director Terry O’Hara joked. “‘We couldn’t stay in the houses any longer with our spouses.’”

The club has implemented several safety measures at its two golf courses: Harbourside and the Links. 

“We’ve changed pretty much everything,” O’Hara said. “[We’ve] made it safer for people to enjoy three-and-a-half to four hours of getting out of the house and playing golf.”

The Key Club has implemented a system for members to go from their cars to the golf carts to the tee. The club has also followed guidance from PGA of America.

 The Key Club has removed rakes and ball cleaners from its courses and required members to keep the flags in each hole. One ingenious trick involves a slice of a common foam swim float.

“We put like a little [swim float] that fits on the bottom of the flagstick, so that when the ball actually goes in the hole, it actually rests about a quarter of the way down,” O’Hara said. “The ball doesn’t touch the bottom. You can actually pull the ball without touching anything else.”

Terry O'Hara

O’Hara said the Key Club also takes the temperature of staff members before the start of their shifts, even though it’s not completely foolproof as a screening tool for COVID-19.

For now, fewer bays are open on the driving range. At the Harbourside Golf Course, 18 of the 27 holes have stayed open.

“The problem is, I have single carts, so I run out of carts pretty quickly now,” O’Hara said.

Only one golfer per cart is allowed unless the golfers live in the same household. O’Hara said it’s extra work for his staff to prepare so many carts for fewer people.

“The first thing we do in the morning is we start by bringing every cart out of the barn,” O’Hara said. “We’ve got 120 carts here at the Harbourside Course, and we’ve got 85 cars at the Links Course. Those are basically disinfected by the staff. We clean them at night. [We] wash it down, so they’re clean, but we actually put disinfectant on the steering columns, anything that they would typically touch.”

The club is also considering polycarbonate partitions between each cart seat to allow a driver and a rider. O’Hara said each shield costs $40-$50.

       Liz and Burt Gold typically play nine holes several times a week.

“I’m going to be 81 years old, so my wife and I have to be careful, but if it wasn’t for the club and their attitude and the ability to keep the course open, I’d be miserable,” Burt Gold said. “So that’s been a lifesaver for us.”

Liz Gold expressed her appreciation for Key Club staff.

“They’re always wearing their masks, they have their gloves, they’re always sensitive, [and] they’re always social distancing,” Liz Gold said. “It’s a wonderful thing. I mean, to wake up each day and know I can go over there and have that two hours of golf. I mean, it is great.”

Key Club member and golfer Heather Annaloro expressed a similar sentiment as the Golds.

“It definitely has provided a sense of normalcy, and quite frankly, it’s been a welcome escape given the current situation,” Annaloro said.

Key Club member Mark Sheffield plays about four times a week and mentioned how the sport is conducive to guidelines put forth by medical experts.

“Golf by nature has social distancing,” Sheffield said. “You don’t go stand on a green together and stand right next to each other. You stand back.”

Sheffield said the Key Club’s courses have been in “unbelievable shape.”

“You feel quite fortunate when you’re out there with the guys, and you’re going like, ‘It’s sunny, we’re playing golf, and man, are we lucky?’” Sheffield said.

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Mark Bergin is the Longboat Key Town Hall reporter for the Observer. He has previously worked as a senior digital producer at WTSP, the CBS affiliate in St. Petersburg. Mark is a graduate of the University of Missouri and grew up in the Chicagoland area.

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