Wisconsin and Michigan are widely recognized as boasting courses that are magnets for out-of-state players, and Minnesota has its share of travel-worthy layouts as well.
But with golf courses currently closed in those states due to the coronavirus, some would-be players are looking to a state not always thought of as a golf destination – Iowa.
What they’re finding, though, is a mixed bag – a welcome mat here, a raised drawbridge there and even a little confusion for one course owner over what he’s allowed to do.
Welcome to golf in the era of COVID-19.
At Timberline Golf Course in Peosta, about 11 miles from Dubuque and just across the Mississippi River from Wisconsin, out-of-state play has been brisk. It was the case even before the virus stopped play in neighboring states that players from southwestern Wisconsin would cross the river to play Timberline, said Richard Specht, one of Timberline’s owners.
“(Now) they’re coming from quite a ways away, Milwaukee, Madison … a couple of weeks ago we took a call from a guy in Green Bay and we were the closest course that was open.”
Some courses in northeastern Iowa have remained closed because of concerns about the virus, or have limited play to members only. A recording at Bellevue Golf Club overlooking the Mississippi tells callers, “If you’re a non-member and interested in playing, check back with us the first of May.”
But at Timberline, Specht said his staff has implemented “all the best practices that our industry is suggesting for the courses that are open,” including limiting tee times to every 15 minutes to increase spacing, even if that means having to turn some players away on busy days.
“There’s days we could definitely take more golfers (but won’t),” he said. “We’re privately owned here so we’re trying to accommodate as many players as we can. Our tee sheet here for Friday and Saturday and Sunday is filling up like crazy. We’re even telling our locals you’ve got to plan ahead or you’re going to get shut out.
“Oh, we’re very happy with what’s going on. I hate to see golfers have to go through this. We all love the game (but) it’s definitely good for our business.”
Even better, he said, “we’re exposing (our course) to some people that we might not ordinarily get.”
And they might come back.
For a while it was much the same for golf courses in the Quad Cities area, about two hours south of Wisconsin where Iowa and Illinois meet at the Mississippi River. Until about 10 days ago, lots of golfers from Illinois, Wisconsin and Minnesota were finding their way to the Iowa side of the river, said John Valliere at Glynn’s Creek Golf Course near Davenport. But that ended when the Scott County Conservation Department directed that play be limited to Iowa residents only in order to stay within the spirit of safer-at-home policies in neighboring states. Both Illinois Gov. J.B. Pritzker and Wisconsin Gov. Tony Evers have ordered golf courses in their states closed.
Now, Valliere said, golfers must show Iowa ID cards to play, which has changed the tee sheet considerably.
“The Sunday before we did it I counted 36 Illinois license plates in the parking lot,” he said, “five from Wisconsin, two from Minnesota…”
At Emeis Golf Course in Davenport, Dick Ross similarly said the change meant an end to golf commuters. “We had people coming down from Michigan,” he said, “and we’re right on the border so we get a lot of Illinois players.” But Ross said it got his attention that players coming from Michigan were coming from one of the states hardest hit by the coronavirus.
“I personally feel fine,” said Ross. “I don’t feel fine for the golfers. I don’t want anybody to get sick.”
After the Scott County order was issued, at least one newspaper reported in error that all Iowa courses were closed to non-residents, which caused a bit of a kerfuffle among other owners.
When asked about out-of-state play at Waukon Golf and Country Club in northeastern Iowa, Greg Ward said, “I’d like to say we are (open to that) but our governor said no.” But when I told him Timberline was open to out-of-state players and that the order apparently concerned only Scott County, Ward thanked me for the call and said he would check immediately to see if he could again welcome Wisconsin players.
“We certainly enjoyed having them” before all the confusion, he said. “Being located where we are we were getting a lot from La Crosse and some from Minnesota.
“We would welcome them back again.”
No doubt the golfers would welcome being welcomed.