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Local golf courses are adjusting to coronavirus rules, and flourishing

A fairly steady stream of golfers approached the window of the pro shop at Shennecossett Golf Course on a sunny, comfortable Wednesday morning.

Tim Sisk greeted each one from his spot inside, taking payment and answering questions. No golfers are allowed in the shop. Scorecards are in a box outside along with hand sanitizer.

Business is hopping at the Groton course as well as others in the area during these challenging times.

“The golf course is doing really, really great,” said Sisk, a member and pro shop employee. “We’re turning away groups by the dozens every weekend.”

Membership is also on the rise.

About 50 new members have joined the club since April 1.

Chris Jurgasik, who’s in his second year as Director of Golf at Elmridge Golf Course in Pawcatuck, also reports a surge in business.

‘We’re busier than ever,” Jurgasik said, standing outside the pro shop where only one golfer is allowed to enter at a time.

Elmridge is not only gaining members but also has seen a rise in day trippers. Some golfers from Massachusetts discovered Elmridge when their state closed courses.

While Massachusetts courses are now open, people have returned to play at Elmridge.

“When Massachusetts shut down, we got a lot of people who had never played here before,” Jurgasik said. “It was a little overwhelming. A lot of people said they would definitely come back and that they love the course. They said they had driven by 100 times on 95 while going to the beaches.

“So that was a weird thing but it really helped us out a lot.”

Golf courses and golfers have learned to adjust to the new restrictions and safety measures in place during the coronavirus crisis. Tee times are spaced out. One person is allowed per golf cart. Reminders of social distance rules are prominently displayed.

A sign on the door at Elmridge informs golfers that a face mask or protective cloth must be worn in the pro shop.

“We’ve been following the rules,” Jurgasik said. “It’s a little hectic sometimes. But you’ve got to adjust. … People have been very, very good.”

Business is also bustling at private courses like Black Hall Club in Old Lyme and Great Neck Country Club in Waterford.

Great Neck pro Kevin Shea says “everything is wonderful” at his course.

“Rounds are way up, because that’s all they have to do,” Shea said. “Thank Goodness, they can get outside and enjoy the fresh air and get some exercise.”

How much longer the surge in business lasts is hard to say.

But Black Hall pro Andrew Campbell is predicting good things ahead for the golf business.

“I believe golf is going to come out better on this,” Campbell said. “I think we’re going to take some of that market share from other activities.”

It’s not all good news for golfers.

Charity tournaments have been negatively impacted. Most have either been canceled or postponed to another date.

Any group tournament with a shotgun start is off.

“That’s the unfortunate part,” Jurgasik said. “I feel bad for the charities that are going to miss out.”

Short putts

• The Connecticut State Golf Association has altered its schedule due to the current situation. Some changes affect local courses.

Black Hall Club serves as the host for the annual Two Man Championship every spring. The event honors CSGA Hall of Famer Bill Hermanson, a Black Hall member and East Lyme resident.

That tournament was first moved from April 29 to May 18 and then to Sept. 28.

It was an easy decision to make.

“It’s an enormous event in terms of players with 110 players,” Campbell said. “And it’s 36 holes and a double shotgun. It’s like having 220 rounds played on the same day. Shotgun starts are like anti-COVID. You can’t gather right now. Carts are single riders.

“So if you had 110 golfers, you’d have to have 110 carts. We couldn’t meet for lunch or do anything like that. We weren’t even close to being able to do that especially on the original date.”

Great Neck is hosting one of three qualifiers for the 118th Connecticut Amateur Championship. The event is set for Thursday, June 11.

Shea expects the tournament will tee off as scheduled. He’s been in regular contact with the CSGA.

“That’s a tee time event so there won’t be any gatherings or anything like that,” Shea said. “So that’s how they’re doing that. On the (CSGA’s) end, I’m sure they’re following their guidelines.”

The Connecticut Amateur Championship, which will run June 22-26 at Shorehaven Golf Club in Norwalk, has undergone some changes to ensure a safe environment for everyone involved.

The championship field will be limited to 78 players. No practice rounds, spectators or caddies will be allowed. The schedule also has been altered.

• Two golfers recently each recorded a hole-in-one at Stonington Country Club.

Michael Hawley accomplished the feat using a five iron on the 186-yard, eighth hole. Mahesh Krishnan witnessed Hawley’s shot.

Marc Ginsberg used an eight iron to ace the 147-yard, second hole. Cal Ackley, Len Battiston and Bob Evans, Jr., were witnesses.

Both golfers were lucky in more than one way. Guessing that they probably didn’t have to buy the traditional round of drinks with the clubhouse bar closed at the time.

• Once again, Lake of Isles has landed on the Golf Digest’s Best in State course rankings for Connecticut. The club’s South Course checks in at No. 8.

The top seven starting from No. 1: The Stanwich Club in Greenwich, Country Club of Fairfield, Yale Golf Course in New Haven, Wee Burn Country Club in Darien, Tamarack Country Club in Greenwich, Bull’s Bridge in South Kent and Round Hill Club in Greenwich.

• Several area courses offer some terrific dining options.

Restaurants like Langley’s at Great Neck and Par Four at Shennecossett are now open for outside dining.

“We have a beautiful patio over here so we can accommodate people and make it as nice as possible,” Shea said.

Upcoming events

• Shennecossett is starting its President’s Cup competition this weekend with qualifying action. The men’s club is running its member-member event on June 20-21.

• Registration opens for the 94th Norwich Invitational on Monday. The event will run the weekend of July 17-19.

• Stonington Country Club is hosting a CSGA One Day tournament on Aug. 13. Registration is open until July 31.

• The 38th Connecticut Senior Open will be held on July 13-14 at Shennecossett. Entry deadline is June 29.

g.keefe@theday.com

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