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Tough week to be a golfer

Cole Ruckman takes a shot towards the green on #12.
Cole Ruckman takes a shot towards the green on #12.

This has not been an easy week to be a golfer, let alone a sports reporter for a newspaper.

It all started last Saturday, when Illinois Governor J.B. Pritzker announced his stay at home order, in an effort to slow the tide that is the world-wide COVID-19 pandemic. There was a list of businesses deemed essential, however, that would remain open in an effort to make life as normal as possible for Illinois citizens.

Not mentioned, however, were golf courses. I found that very distressing, because after a winter of mostly being cooped up, there are few things I enjoy more than getting in 18 holes on a fine spring day. I know I’m not the only person that feels that way.

On Wednesday, however, came some good news. The governor’s office announced golf courses could remain open, under some strict guidelines.

Clubhouses would remain closed, to discourage socializing that often occurs before and after rounds. No food or beverages could be sold to golfers. Club carts were not to be used.

On the course, there was no using ball washers. There was no touching flagsticks – after holed putts, simply reach in the cup and retrieve your golf ball. Observe social distancing just as you would under other circumstances.

Other precautions that were to be used by area courses included accepting only credit cards, to avoid the transfer of paper money; inverting the cups on the greens, to prevent the golf ball from sinking into the ground; and for courses allowing private cart usage, limiting carts to single riders (married couples being an exception).

This news from the governor’s office got the sports writer in me springing into action. I contacted people from a half dozen area courses, to get their reaction to being able to open, at least on a limited basis, and the precautions they would be taking to keep golfers on their courses safe.

Most of the story was completed by early Wednesday evening, and I finished it up Thursday morning, after contacting the last of the people I had hoped to talk to.

After that, it was off to the links. Six of us gathered at Sunset Golf Club in Mount Morris, and we took all the proper precautions. Four of us had private carts, each of us rode solo, and the other two walked. No flagsticks or ball washers were used. Each threesome had a grand old time, though we did have to dodge a few rain drops over the course of the round.

There was trouble on the horizon, however, and it started with a voice message I had received. Kris Welker, the course manager at Shady Oaks Country Club near Amboy, had another precaution that her course was going to be taking and was hoping it could be included in the article.

I made the change, then called her to confirm it had been made. As we talked, Kris suddenly blurted out, “You’re not going to believe this.”

A day after the governor’s office had deemed Illinois golf courses could stay open, they would now all be closed. I soon received another call from Larry Schuldt, the Executive Director of the Sterling Park District, with the same news. Earlier, I had talked to Larry regarding safety measures Emerald Hill Golf Course in Sterling would be taking.

A rather sizable article that I had put a lot of time and effort into and was to run in Friday’s paper was now essentially worthless. I called Assistant Sports Editor Eric Ingles, who was designing the sports pages, with the rotten news.

To some, this golf thing may all seem silly, and I get that. There are a lot more important things going on in the world than being able to whack around a golf ball. Lives are being lost due to coronavirus, and the best and the brightest are doing everything they can to come up with a way to prevent that from happening.

For me, however, golf has always been a great escape, even though it tends to infuriate me at times. I’m sure there are a lot of people who feel the same way.

Last Saturday was a lousy weather day, and I watched about 14 hours of television. It was an assortment of old basketball games and golf tournaments, Saturday Night Live and Seinfeld, South Park and Family Feud. My back ached, as this lazy boy spent way too much time in the La-Z-Boy.

On Sunday morning, I woke up, flipped on the TV and watched – I swear this is true – the national rock skipping championship on ESPN2 from Mackinac Island in MIchigan. That was the final straw.

I showered, put on some warm clothes and headed to Sunset with the intention of hitting some shag balls, and maybe chipping and putting a bit on the practice green. As luck would have it, our course manager was in the clubhouse, and I got the go-ahead to play a quick nine holes.

It was cold and windy, and I’m sure a few people peering out their windows along the No. 2 fairway thought I was nuts. Perhaps they were right.

I’m just nuts about golf, and I hope it returns in some form soon here in Illinois.

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