What it’s like to travel for golf during a pandemic
A group shows how easy it is to social distance during golf, as captured by our J.D. Cuban at Rustic Canyon Golf Course in Moorpark, Calif.
Most will agree that traveling for golf ranks relatively low on the list of things that are most important right now, but it’s a missing part of many golfers’ summers in 2020. Even still, some were not deterred this summer, making either local golf trips or shifting to locations that were open with some restrictions. Among those were our Golf Digest course-ranking panelists, whose evaluations make up our biennial America’s 100 Greatest rankings. We asked them to share their experiences from this summer, and how different traveling for golf looked.
The biggest takeaways included the ever-changing policies and regulations from state to state, which regularly forced plans to change on the fly. And the things you might’ve taken for granted previous to March—gathering with a group for dinner and even sharing a car to travel from course to course—weren’t possible for many in 2020. “Typically I travel and evaluate courses with at least one other guy,” one panelist from Virginia said, “but COVID-19 has forced me to drive separately on these trips. In addition, sharing a hotel room with another panelist to bring costs down has been a no-no. Meals take a lot more thought and greater planning is required.”
Being able to share post-round drinks and meals at memorable locations were reduced drastically over the summer. “I find myself spending a lot more time sitting in hotel rooms alone eating from a delivery service,” another panelist from Washington, D.C. said.
Just like the boom of golfers finding safety in an outdoor activity like golf, our panelists found courses universally being smart in their new practices.
“The golf itself has actually been really consistent across the places I have played,” a panelist from Dallas said. “Masks and social distancing are expected in the clubhouse areas. Carts are wiped down after each use. Rakes have been removed from bunkers. Ball stoppers have placed in the holes, so you don’t have to touch the flag. No water coolers on the courses. Those are very minimal inconveniences for me; they don’t really take away from the golf experience.”
The highlight of the year for many are golf trips, and those were dramatically reduced or eliminated from many people’s plans.
“Normally I would be taking five or six golf-related trips a year, and this year with the recent surges you really have to pick and choose the states that you travel to,” one panelist from Englewood, Colo. said. “In my case I have eliminated trips entirely for this year. Many states have different requirements before you can enter from another state, like a mandatory two-week quarantine when you arrive. When the trips are only for a weekend, spending 14 days in quarantine can’t really work.”
Another panelist outlined a trip that hammers home the above point. With a bucket-list invite set to Pine Valley Golf Club, one of our panelists was set to travel from California to New Jersey. A couple days before his trip, New Jersey added 20 states to a mandatory 14-day quarantine list before traveling to the state, and California was one of those states. Though devastated, our panelist pivoted and convinced some friends to host him at nearby Pennsylvania clubs, Aronimink, Saucon Valley and Merion—all clubs inside Golf Digest’s top 10 in state. Not a bad back-up plan. That is, until his Philadelphia friends called him before he left, informing him that their state had also added California to their quarantine list.
Wisconsin did not have a similar list, so our Southern California panelist made plans to visit Sand Valley Resort to play its two 18-hole courses, Mammoth Dunes and Sand Valley Golf Course, in addition to the par-3 Sandbox course. And our panelist also had friends in Chicago who hosted him at Chicago Golf Club, before playing Butterfield County Club on the way up through Wisconsin.
That kind of last-minute maneuvering is indicative of much of the feedback we received from golfers around the country. But the prevailing sentiment we’ve heard from the summer is a thankfulness for traveling to golf trips. Even for those who haven’t taken a trip since the spring, there’s an overwhelming sense of appreciation for golf trips going forward, knowing they’re not something to take for granted anymore.