A Year Later

Columns - america’s greenkeeper

I received my bimonthly email from the Carolinas Golf Association containing my most recent GHIN update (5.9) on October 1. At the bottom of the email were the last 20 scores used for this revision. As I glanced over them, I realized two things. First, I have already played more rounds in 2020 than I did in 2019 — and I went on a golf trip to Ireland in 2019! I also noticed that my wife and I have played more rounds together in 2020 than in 2019 and 2018 combined.

You may recall it was in this column at this time last year that I wrote about that experience in Ireland. Despite my game not being what it once was, I realized I still love the game, I love playing golf with my wife and I resolved to do better. So earlier this year, I bought new clubs, hoping to find something resembling the game I once possessed.

Then came COVID-19. Suddenly everything was up in the air and there was uncertainty around every corner. Golf closed in some states and remained opened in others. Golf looked different due to restrictions and efforts taken on behalf of facilities to keep players safe. With many folks now working from home, golf courses that did not close found themselves busier than ever. Golf never closed here in North Carolina.

How did my wife and I manage to get out and experience golf together when many friends and colleagues were not permitting guest play? We would usually play late-afternoon rounds at nearby private courses. We’re fortunate to have so many wonderful Donald Ross layouts in North Carolina and I have made many great superintendent friends during my tenure here.

If there is one good thing that has sprung from this COVID-19 situation, it is that golf is booming. Private courses are busier than ever and public courses are making a profit. I know many resort facilities were affected early on without the ability to house guests during travel restrictions, but I can tell you a trip to Pinehurst one afternoon in late August revealed many people are ready to return to normal and experience life again. Hopefully, those facilities are catching up.

Our run started in April when we played Tobacco Road — a Mike Strantz-designed public course near Pinehurst — on a Sunday afternoon. I carried my clubs and she rode a solo. In the early stages of the pandemic, single-rider carts were mandatory in North Carolina, so I hoofed it.

We were back in the Pinehurst area a month later at Southern Pines, one of my favorite Donald Ross designs. I booked online, notified the superintendent of our planned arrival (a professional courtesy, takes only a few minutes) and we were welcomed upon arrival by the general manager. This was early May. and area courses were packed with locals and nearby residents the first half of the day. Without play from hotel and resort guests, the afternoons were available.

My birthday is in early June and things were just starting to reopen next door in Virginia, so we headed to Primland Resort in lovely and remote Meadows of Dan. I had previously played the Highland Course, but this was her first time there. The fine folks at Primland were genuinely happy to have us, as they had only been reopened a couple weeks. I don’t think we could have picked a better location than that lovely mountaintop to regain a taste of normalcy while being socially distant.

After an extended summer break, we resumed our day trips when weather permitted. We played rounds at Pine Needles, Mid-Pines and even enjoyed an overnight stay at Pinehurst Resort. I must admit things were starting to feel like the earlier days of our marriage before the self-imposed stresses of work and other distractions pulled us away from golf. I knew something good was happening when, after one recent golf excursion, she asked before bedtime where we were playing next.

So we’ve spent time together playing some new courses and some of our old favorites, but the best experience this year came in late September when we decided to visit the kids in Virginia before things got busy at work with club championships. We played Lynch Links on the grounds of Emory & Henry College outside Abingdon.

What makes Lynch Links so special is it is FREE to all. It consists of six par 3s and three short par 4s. On this day, my wife, her son and I walked the original six-hole loop three times, then scurried over so she could experience the other holes. Just a man and his wife, a mother and her son, walking, talking, enjoying the scenery and one another’s company while playing an ancient game.

As it was meant to be played.

Matthew Wharton, CGCS, MG, is the superintendent at Carolina Golf Club in Charlotte, North Carolina and past president of the Carolinas GCSA. Follow him on Twitter @CGCGreenkeeper.