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Longboat Key Wednesday, Mar. 25, 2020 8 months ago

Longboat sports buffs seek new outlets

Some are playing their usual sports with new restrictions, while others are finding new forms of exercise.
by: Brendan Lavell Staff Writer

Whether it’s the closure of pickleball courts at Bayfront Park or the Longboat Key Tennis Center, or the limit of one golfer per cart at the Resort at Longboat Key Club, sports rules are changing quickly in the face of the coronavirus pandemic.

In many cases, people are adapting.

David Green plays on the Divison I 60s team and the open 50s team at the Tennis Center. He left Longboat to go north over the weekend, but he played at the Tennis Center on Saturday, the last day it was open, and remains in contact with plenty of Longboat tennis players.

Courts sit unused at the Longboat Key Tennis Center. The facility closed Sunday amid concerns about COVID-19.

Green said many people, such as himself, have left Longboat for the season. But some who have remained are finding private courts on which to play. Others have switched to bicycling, kayaking or using personal gym equipment.

However, even those who have found ways to continue exercising may find it hard to replace the socializing they did as part of the tennis community.

“It's gonna have an impact on social outlets for people,” Green said. “How difficult that'll be, I think time will tell because this is all just [now] happening.

“Most of the people that I've talked to have felt like ... it seems fair to take these kind of precautions. I haven't heard any real disagreement or grumbling about, ‘This is overreacting,’ or, ‘This is unnecessary.’”

Longboat Key Club has kept its tennis courts open, but with major adjustments. The club decided Monday to stop doubles play until further notice. That came after such measures as restricting hours of play, halting lessons, reducing the number of available courts from 20 to 10 and restricting access to the pro shop. 

“[Members] call on a daily basis to make sure [the courts are open] because that is the one thing that gets them out of the house that they look forward to in their daily routine,” Longboat Key Club Director of Tennis Briana Harris Francois said.

However, the Key Club closed its pickleball courts, largely because pickleball, by nature, requires players to stay in close quarters. The pickleball courts at Bayfront Park have also been closed.

“Pickleball is so different [from tennis and golf] because it centered around Bayfront Park,” Scott Salick said. “We’re hunkering down and waiting. Hopefully in 30 to 60 days we’ll be able to play again.”

Pickleball players used to congregate at Bayfront in groups of 50 or more on Monday, Wednesday and Friday mornings for open play. Although some players left Longboat earlier than normal because of the pandemic, the ones who have stayed now have a two- to three-hour hole in their schedules, according to Salick. He and his wife now take 60- to 90-minute walks.

“It’s not too tough living on Longboat Key on the beach,” he said.

One sport that seems better suited to social distancing is golf. At the Key Club, for example, golf has continued by allotting one cart per person, removing common touch points such as bunker rakes and ball washers, and prohibiting players from touching flagsticks — styrofoam has been placed in the holes so balls are easier to grab without touching anything else.

“I can't tell you how many times we get emails ... about how appreciative they are that we're still open,” Longboat Key Club Director of Golf Terry O’Hara said. “We're hoping that we can continue this. Obviously if we get some orders that we can't then we'll have to deal with those at that time.”

Brendan Lavell is a general assignment reporter for the Observer. He earned degrees in journalism and history at the University of Missouri. He has visited 48 of the 50 United States, has a black cat named Arya and roots for the Eagles, Flyers, Phillies, 76ers and Chelsea FC.

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