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Golfers, adjusting to social distancing, happy to play on

Norwich — A retired teacher and avid golfer, Don Bodwell was asked to imagine what his life would be like without being able to play a round.

"It would be like my last five days," Bodwell said. "The days pass very slowly. I'm almost out of books. The library is closed. I started watching the Sopranos for the umpteenth time."

Fortunately for Bodwell and other golfers in the state, many courses remain open during the coronavirus pandemic.

Bodwell left his home in Waterford on Monday and headed to Norwich Golf Course to play for the first time in about five days. He typically gets in over 100 rounds per year.

"It's a nice cure for cabin fever," Bodwell said.

Monday's seasonably warm weather brought out a decent crowd. Business at Norwich is about typical for this time of the year. The nicer the day, the bigger the turnout.

Perhaps now more than ever, golfers really appreciate spending a few hours knocking the little white ball around, especially since so many other sports related activities are shut down for public health safety reasons.

When the Connecticut Department of Economic and Community Development announced that state courses could remain open, golfers rejoiced. Rhode Island is allowing play for only state residents while Massachusetts courses are closed.

Standing near the first tee, Derrin Carter, who's from Mashantucket, looked forward to playing for the first time this season, joining a group of family members.

"It means everything, absolutely," Carter said of being able to golf. "Golf is everything. Just to get outside and get some fresh air. I've been cooped up in the house."

Club head professional Mike Svab, superintendent Eric Kundahl and the rest of the staff are doing everything they can to provide a safe atmosphere for their customers.

Norwich is following all the guidelines required by the state. Only one person is allowed per golf cart. After use, carts are thoroughly wiped down with bleach and then washed. Benches, water coolers, trap rakes and ball washers have been removed. Cups have been turned upside down so players don't have to touch the flagstick.

"There's nothing that anybody can touch," Svab said. "We don't hand out scorecards and pencils. That seems to be the biggest complaint. Everyone wants a scorecard and a pencil. We put a downloadable scorecard on our website."

Svab is having plexiglass installed at the front desk in the pro shop. There's a big sign hanging outside on the wall stressing social distancing and keeping parking lot time to a minimum. It also is prominently displayed on the course's website. Tee times are spread out 10 minutes apart.

So far, most golfers are following the new rules, Svab said.

And for those who don't?

"We have a designated employee for COVID-19," Svab said. "When we get busy, we have him driving around full-time enforcing social distancing and working the parking lot.

"We're doing what we can do. We're trying to think of everything. As time goes by, there's always another idea or another thing. ... My employees have been great and Eric's employees have done a tremendous job on the golf course."

If Svab and Kundahl already didn't have enough on their usual to-do-lists, they're also overseeing a major irrigation pond project near and on the 15th fairway. Teaching pro Chris Medeiros is part of the work crew.

The project, which started in late February, is nearing completion. A liner will be installed this week in the empty acre-size pond. Then the finish work will begin.

"It's a welcome addition to the course," Svab said. "We pay for city water. We've drilled two wells. The pond will always be full. Whatever we take out will be replenished every night. ... In the long run, we'll save a lot of money. This will be really something when it is done."

Kundahl added: "It's been a fun project, but I don't ever want to do it again."

It's difficult right now for Svab and Kundahl to look too far ahead during these uncertain times. They're hopeful that the annual Norwich Invitational, which tees off in mid-July, won't be impacted.

They're thankful to be working.

"The job is, without a question, harder," Svab said. "Everything has a different feel to it, but it's okay. The eternal hope is we just get through it, day by day."

g.keefe@theday.com

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