Golf coronavirus

Dave Mortensen putts to a modified golf hole at the Logan River Golf Course on Sunday. To prevent players from touching the flag stick or placing their hands in the hole to retrieve balls, the course has installed posts that deflect golf balls and count as a successful shot.

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The old saying that “necessity is the mother of invention” was in evidence at the Logan River Golf Course last week when the work crew came up with a way for players to increase social distancing as a precaution against coronavirus.

The sport of golf already affords participants a lot of physical separation during a round, except when players converge on the putting surfaces to finish each hole, often removing the flag stick and reaching into the cup for their balls.

Concerned that this could lead to the spread of germs, Logan River professional Jeff John and members of the grounds crew started brainstorming and came up with a solution: a piece of sprinkler pipe placed inside each cup that juts above the ground level. Players can no longer putt their balls into the cup, but simply hitting the pipe counts as a successful hole-out.

“We were looking at several options, and it was actually Jim Hansen, our mechanic, who said, ‘Why don’t you just put a cylinder over the top of the hole,’” John said. “He went in the shop and he came back with one that was kind of short, and I said, ‘Let’s make it a little bit taller than that so it’s really easy to see.’”

The jerry-rigged cups are just one of several measures taken by the Logan River and Birch Creek golf courses to increase safety and stay open at a time when they believe the public needs them more than ever.

That demand was on display over the past several days, with big crowds at both courses.

“We’ve been busier the last week and a half than I can remember for this time of year,” John said. “I’ve never seen a March like this.”

John said the rush is more about people getting outside and finding relief from coronavirus-forced isolation than it is about the sport, but the golf course staff is happy to provide that relief for the community.

“I sent out a tweet saying, ‘Golf is so much more than a game,’ and over the weekend you saw it,” John said. “You saw moms and dads out with their kids, and during the week when school was out there were a lot parents and kids on the driving range. I can’t imagine everybody in lockdown with nothing to do, nowhere to go.”

Birch Creek professional Eric Kleven echoed these sentiments.

“We’re hoping and praying for business as usual, hoping we can stay open to give people something they can actually do outside,” he said, noting that the City of Smithfield, which operates the course, has no current plans to shut down Birch Creek.

John anticipates pressure to close Logan River after Salt Lake City on Monday suspended play at its public courses for at least six days. He said the topic is being discussed, but so far it’s been business as usual.

Well, not exactly as usual.

In addition to the modified cups, Logan River is taking several precautions against the spread of coronavirus, including disinfecting golf carts after each use, limiting counter activity, staggering tee-times to keep groups farther apart, and issuing separate carts to each player unless they are in the same family or make a personal choice to ride together.

Birch Creek has taken similar measures, although for now traditional golf holes are still in use.

Charlie McCollum is the managing editor of The Herald Journal. He can be reached at cmccollum@hjnews.com or 435-792-7220.

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