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There was no shortage of smiles at busy golf courses across Maine over the weekend after Gov. Janet Mills last week approved the opening of courses.
Golf had been banned since April 2 because of the COVID-19 pandemic under a previous stay-at-home order that allowed only businesses deemed essential to remain open.
“It was a long time coming. Golf is a good escape,” said Mark Barthelemy of Old Town, one of 12 golfers who get together every Saturday and Sunday at Penobscot Valley Country Club in Orono.
Courses were allowed to open last Friday with a lengthy list of restrictions designed to keep golfers and employees safe. Some courses had already opened in March.
“You don’t see many golfers complaining and spring golf in Maine isn’t that appetizing all the time,” Barthelemy said. “Honestly, it wasn’t that much of a difference from playing a normal round [without the restrictions] other than some dismal lies in the bunkers because you can’t use the rake.”
Mills’ list of restrictions includes players having to play at courses within the county in which they reside — unless they have a membership to a course in another county. There are no ball washers, bunker rakes or water stations.
Clubhouses, driving ranges and practice greens all are closed and the cup must prevent the ball from entering to keep players from reaching in to retrieve their ball.
Only one person is allowed per golf cart and there must be a minimum of 12 minutes between groups teeing off. Players are asked to comply with a minimum of six feet between players.
There were virtually no complaints from several golfers who teed it up Saturday at Penobscot Valley Country Club. Pro Mark Hall said 15 golfers braved the rain to play on Friday.
Rick Thompson of Glenburn said golfers agreed to replace the ball in bunkers when it was in a footprint or in a pile of sand.
“It was pretty seamless,” Thompson said of playing under the new rules.
Joe B. Rollins of Bangor said his group decided to take balls that had landed in the bunker and toss them into a grassy area behind the bunker.
“It was awesome to be out there today. I missed it,” Rollins said.
Golf skills notwithstanding, there were other signs of golfers having been home for the last home.
“It was pretty funny to see everybody with long hair,” Barthelemy said, referring to the previous closure of barber shops and hair salons that also was lifted on Friday.
Ed Michaud of Levant said everything went well.
“There were no real issues. The course was jammed all day but everyone respected social distancing,” he said.
Andrew Robichaud and Chris Andreasen, both of Bradley, liked the fact the tee times were further apart than usual.
“The more space [between groups], the better,” said Robichaud.
“And you didn’t have to wait [to tee off],” Andreasen added.
PVCC members said it was easier for them to play since they only had to sign up for a tee time. Non-members had to arrange payment.
The one thing players did miss was being able to socialize in the clubhouse after the round in the clubhouse with a beverage and something to eat.
They stressed that it was more important to be able to play golf again and they had the opportunity to socialize, from a distance, on the course.
Rollins said their group mixed up the foursomes on Sunday to have different groups of friends together than played on Saturday.
Golf pros said May is not a high-volume month for golf in Maine because of the unpredictable weather.
But Barthelemy thinks it could be a much more profitable month than usual because people are so antsy to play after being forced to stay home during the COVID-19 restrictions.
“As long as everyone continues to follow the restrictions, golf courses will be busier and I think more people will get interested in the game,” Barthelemy said. “My wife [Melissa] used to hate the game but now she has started to pick up the game.
“It’s something we can do together,” he said.
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