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Golf offers 'safe haven' for East County athletes

Golfers say the sport keeps them mentally and physically healthy during COVID-19.

Michael Levitan, 71, said he plays golf at University Park Country Club three times a week, sometimes four, and it has kept him from going nuts.
Michael Levitan, 71, said he plays golf at University Park Country Club three times a week, sometimes four, and it has kept him from going nuts.
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What would East County be like right now without golf?

University Park Country Club resident Michael Levitan, 71, hopes he won't find out.

"I think I would be going nuts," Levitan said. "I would just be walking around my apartment for fun."

Levitan is one of the many golfers taking advantage of courses remaining open during the coronavirus pandemic. Levitan said a back injury forced him to miss a few weeks in March, but since recovering, he has played at least three times a week, sometimes sneaking in a fourth. That aligns with his normal schedule, Levitan said. 

"Honestly, it has been a lifesaver," Levitan said. "It is how I socialize now. We stand six to 10 feet apart, of course, but I can see my friends whom I would not be able to see otherwise. It helps me get my steps in for the day. It has been a tremendous comfort."

Not every golf course offers this escape option. On April 15, Lakewood Ranch Golf and Country Club closed its golf courses, as well as its fitness center, pickleball courts and tennis courts, indefinitely out of COVID-19 precautions, as other area courses have done.

Although University Park and other courses like Heritage Harbour Golf Club and Eatery remain open, there have been changes made. Only one person can sit in a golf cart at a time. Rubber has been placed in each hole, so golfers do not have to reach into the cup to retrieve their balls. Flags cannot be removed from holes and rakes cannot be used in bunkers. 

Levitan said he is taking precautions while on the course and he feels safe. 

"If I see someone walking toward me, I'll back away or take a side step, and they get it," Levitan said. "Sometimes people just forget (to be cautious). But I have been playing with the same group of 16 guys forever. I trust that they are being as safe as I am off the course. You can never totally eliminate the risk, but I do feel comfortable while out there." 

Matthew Kutt has been playing Heritage Harbour and Sara Bay golf clubs with his daughter, Alana Kutt, one of the area's top youth golfers, since the pandemic began. Alana Kutt said the adjustment to the new rules has been a quick one, and though golf doesn't feel quite the same as normal, it is certainly better than the alternative.

Matthew Kutt, shown playing with his daughter Alana Kutt, says golf is
Matthew Kutt, shown playing with his daughter Alana Kutt, says golf is "our safe haven."

In Matthew Kutt's mind, staying at home was not an option as long as there was a course open somewhere.

"Playing golf now, to me, is like eating my mother's apple pie," Kutt said. "Growing up, I always wondered why it tasted so good. Then one day, I saw that she puts a whole stick of lard in it. But I continued to eat it because it tasted so good. It was worth the cholesterol risk. Right now, golf is worth the risk. It is our safe haven. It is mentally nourishing. We are taking a lot of precautions. We are sanitizing our hands after every few holes and wiping down our gloves so we can safely play."

While practicing, the Kutts will make videos where Matthew acts as a sports commentator, talking about Alana's upcoming shot or grilling her about how her round went. The pair laugh the whole time. It's an example of how the Kutts are coping with the uncertain world around them: They are having more fun than ever, together. 

"I encourage everyone to get outside, get in the sunshine," Matthew Kutt said. "Go for a walk if you don't want to play golf, but do something. Fear of the outside is debilitating. It's depressing. You can get moving outside while remaining safe."

This article has been updated to change Matthew Kutt's residence and the status of Palm Aire Country Club's golf course. The course is currently open. We regret the errors. 



Ryan Kohn

Ryan Kohn is the sports editor for Sarasota and East County and a Missouri School of Journalism graduate. He was born and raised in Olney, Maryland. His biggest inspirations are Wright Thompson and Alex Ovechkin. His strongest belief is that mint chip ice cream is unbeatable.

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