Three-time major winner and Hall of Famer Hale Irvin once remarked: “Golf is the loneliest sport. You’re completely alone with every conceivable opportunity to defeat yourself.”
These days more than most, golf being the loneliest sport has been allowing it to continue.
While most of the athletic world has been shuttered for the past two weeks and counting, golf courses are one of the few arenas were sports can still take place.
And Grayson County has been no exception. The ability to play a round or two remains an option despite the coronavirus pandemic either altering or delaying most normal activities. All professional leagues have postponed games, colleges cancelled all spring competition and high schools in Texas are waiting to see if they can return — the earliest for that right now is May 4.
But as long as the weather permits, golfers can still hit the links.
Late last Saturday, there were a little more than 50 cars in the parking lot at Stone Creek Country Club. It was a perfect spring day to play with weather in the low 70s. At the same time, Grayson County had just reported its third case of COVID-19 and the national death toll surpassed 2,000.
“I’m concerned and mindful of the situation. I’m not worried coming out here with the way they have it set up. They have us all in separate carts,” said Steve Bennett, who lives outside of Trenton. “It’s a beautiful day and a way to get some exercise. If the county judge said shelter in place, we’d respect the law.”
The number of Grayson County cases more than doubled by the start of this week and deaths across the country increased to more than 3,000 by Monday night.
“I probably watch far too much news,” said Chris Shivers of Leonard. “The number of cases isn’t the big thing for me. I worry about the mortality rate.”
The kitchen is closed but golfers can buy prepackaged snacks — chips, crackers and Slim Jims — while drinks come in either bottles or cans. Workers are wearing gloves and there is a big bottle of hand sanitizer on the counter. The sign on the entrance to the pro shop has four rules to follow: no touching flag sticks; throw away your own trash; no more than 10 people at a time in the pro shop and continuing to wash hands.
Other courses in the county have similar policies.
Woodlawn Country Club has remained open with food and beer orders to go. All carts are wiped down before and after they are used and the flag stick should not be grabbed with a bare hand. This past Monday, they placed cut-up pool noodles in the cups so players wouldn’t have to reach in and get their balls.
Tanglewood Resort is also following the national recommendations for social distancing. The pro shop is open but the six-foot spacing rules are in place while the 19th Hole is also doing just to-go orders as the dining room is closed.
"We're taking every safety precaution that we can, everything that everybody else is doing to keep everybody safe," Director of Golf Mike Fish said. "People are obviously concerned and taking the necessary precautions.
On the course, Tanglewood is allowing one passenger per golf court with a maximum of five golfers to a tee time. Members of the same household are allowed to share a cart. Tee time intervals were increased to 16 minutes per group from eight minutes to allow for better spacing and golfers should maintain six feet between each other on the tee box and greens. Golf pins should not be removed for any reason and both rakes and ball washers are no longer on the course. For the driving range and putting green, the six-foot distance should be observed.
But Tanglewood, which is the home course for the Pottsboro boys and girls golf teams who were hoping to return to state this spring, has seen a slight dip in participation, which comes from something outside its control.
"Last year at this time, we hosted a conference and people golfing, so we're lower than last year," Fish said. "Because we usually grab a lot of business from the hotel and groups of 10 which aren't allowed now, we are seeing more twosomes, threesomes, foursomes.
"If we get cut in half on revenue numbers, we'll have to make some tough decisions. That's probably the same for every business in Grayson County."
Last week at Stone Creek, only on Monday did the club have fewer that 54 players traverse the course. From Wednesday through Saturday, it was essentially all triple-digits — 99, 127, 132 and 130 through Saturday.
As the weather gets nicer it was most likely an expected, an obvious, bump. During the first week of March — when there was rain on the weekend and only four golfers braved the elements across that Friday and Saturday — there was one triple-digit day and another in the 90s.
A month ago, during the last week of February, Saturday had the highest number at 119 but the next-highest total was 80 with four of the seven days at 50 or fewer patrons.
It has been attributed to Mark Twain that “Golf is a good walk spoiled.” But depending on how the next few weeks play out, Texoma golfers might not be able to take those types of walks much longer and so they are enjoying them while they still can.