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Marshalltown golf courses adjusting to COVID-19 pandemic

A sense of normalcy in the year 2020 is quite difficult to come across. But the golf courses in Marshalltown have been trying their best to keep their doors open and provide an escape for residents in the middle of social distancing and self-isolation guidelines.

Iowa has not issued an official ‘shelter-in-place’ order, which allows golf courses to remain open in the state despite being closed elsewhere in the country. However, Gov. Kim Reynolds added new restrictions to how golf courses can operate earlier in the week. The proclamation closed “social clubs, including at golf courses,” meaning that clubhouses are not allowed to remain open.

But all courses can remain open if they practice social distancing — and Elmwood Country Club, the American Legion Memorial Golf Course and Wandering Creek Golf Course have responded to the challenge, according to Marshalltown High School boys and girls golf coach Lucas Johnson.

“They’ve done a good job of setting in place a lot of safety standards,” Johnson said.

Elmwood’s General Manager Cory Strait said the course began to take precautions a few weeks ago when it became clear COVID-19 was going to be nationwide.

“We instantly started only one person per cart instead of shared carts,” Strait said. “The ball will go into the hole a little bit but not all the way in, and you can’t pull the flag out. The carts every morning are fully sanitized and then labeled by tee time.”

Strait also has a hand in the kitchen, which does curbside pickup orders. He’s been impressed by the response from the Marshalltown community as well as the commitment by the patrons to the social distancing guidelines.

The private course’s guidelines meant that by the time Gov. Reynolds made the further restrictions, it wasn’t particularly necessary for Elmwood to do more — they were ahead of the curve, in a sense.

The Legion opened before the pandemic forced changes throughout the industry, as detailed in an earlier Times-Republican story.

“Since we implemented the changes, most golfers have been cooperative, which we appreciate,” said Ron Estabrook, a Legion course member and volunteer. “We want to keep the golf course as a place where anyone can beat cabin fever, get some fresh air and a little exercise, We also want to respect the health of our new club pro, Paul Ainley, his staff and all golfers.”

The same goes for Wandering Creek Golf Course, a nine-hole course in Marshalltown owned by Terry Buzbee. Buzbee said he made sure the course implemented social distancing once he realized how big of a deal the virus was. The full list of guidelines is on Wandering Creek’s website.

“We don’t take cash anymore, that’s just something to protect our people,” Buzbee said. “Everybody has certain levels of self-discipline. To be honest, we’re kind of on them, saying ‘Hey guys, keep your distance,’ and everyone loves getting some fresh air.”

Buzbee said the course even relayed to Gov. Reynolds what they were doing to encourage social distancing and make it easier for the golfers to practice. It has been a good opportunity for the course to provide an escape for Marshalltown residents, he added.

Strait agreed, saying that golf can serve as a sort of “therapy” for those searching for a sense of normalcy in such uncertain times — and the creative measures to enforce health safety and social distancing have been a big part of that.

“I think golf in general is therapy — it’s very therapeutic,” Strait said. “I think it’s absolutely wonderful that we can still offer golf as long as people are being cautious and safe.”

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