The Journal Gazette
Saturday, May 23, 2020 1:00 am

Coronavirus forces golfers to alter their game, habits

JUSTIN A. COHN | The Journal Gazette

Golfers know the sound. The clink-clink of the ball landing in the cup, cementing a good hole or cutting off the bleeding of a bad one.

It always brings joy or relief.

These days, however, local golfers are robbed of that sound. Among the safety measures courses have instituted are holes adapted for easy, contact-free retrieval of balls to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

At Autumn Ridge Golf Club, where Johnny Strawser plays most of his golf, they've inserted pool noodles into the holes' cups to prevent the balls from falling more than 2 inches.

“The ball hitting the cup and rattling around in the cup, it's just something that's always been a satisfying sound. I'm missing that,” Strawser said. “But to be able to play golf, considering what's going on, you don't worry about that right now. If it's a safety precaution, then it's fine.”

Strawser, 38, is one of the top amateurs in northeast Indiana and has played more than 15 rounds this year at three area courses, including Cherry Hill and Riverbend. He talked The Journal Gazette through what it's like playing his beloved sport amid the pandemic.

“Generally, for the most part, golfers understand they can do this safely and they can do this as close to normal as possible,” Strawser said. “Some of the things are minor inconveniences, but I think they're just little complaints here and there.”

On Wednesday, Strawser fired a 4-over 76, not the best round for a player who sports a plus-3 handicap, meaning he normally shoots below par. But it was wet and windy at Autumn Ridge.

He teed off at 8:30 a.m., a good slot to avoid crowds even in the best of times. There have been days, though, in which he has seen Autumn Ridge pretty full.

The pro shop was closed, so he had to check in at a table outside, where non-members paid. Food from the snack bar was available, but players were advised to place their orders in advance.

Although he walked the course with a push cart, he could have opted to ride. According to the Indiana Golf Association, single riders are advised for motorized carts and players shouldn't switch seats. Sharing of scorecards or pencils is discouraged. Some courses, including Autumn Ridge, have placed dividers between the driver and passenger seats.

Strawser, a truck driver manager at Buchanan Hauling & Rigging, hasn't seen too many people wearing masks on courses.

“The good thing about golf is you can stay pretty well spread out. There's a little bit less of a worry on (needing a mask),” he said. “Now if the golf shop were open, I'd be wearing a mask if I were inside.”

Many of the guidelines for golfers are just common sense. Ball washers shouldn't be used. Players shouldn't high-five or toss balls, divots and other equipment to one another.

Bunkers are a challenge because rakes have been removed. Players may be allowed to improve their lies and must groom sand with their cleats, which certainly isn't ideal.

Play on the greens is what's most different. Whereas 2019 rules changes had taken removal of the pins while putting from mandatory to optional, leaving them in now is required.

While holes are historically 4.25 inches deep or more, Strawser thinks some courses will make their current cup devices permanent. That might be a welcome change for some.

“For a guy like me who's got normal-sized hands with slightly shorter fingers, it makes it difficult to get all the way to the bottom of the cup with my fingers without actually damaging the edge,” Strawser said.

Strawser had already participated in one tournament, the Fort Wayne Golf Association's 5-man scramble at Riverbend. Among the changes he noticed: online scoring was done through an app; if there was a glitch, then players texted a photo of their scorecard to the FWGA; signing and attesting scorecards wasn't necessary; and players couldn't congregate and socialize as they historically do.

“There was strict promotion to follow social distancing and all the guidelines,” Strawser said.

There was situation in which his team couldn't pull the flag, though it would have preferred to, and a putt caromed off the pin and past the hole. Then, they missed their ensuing putts.

Strawser mentioned an April situation in which PGA Tour star Jordan Spieth played with former NFL quarterback Tony Romo at a Dallas charity event. On a par-3, Spieth dunked his shot but it ricocheted off the safety spacer and landed in a water hazard, taking him from a hole-in-one to a double bogey.

Those situations are worth stomaching to be able to play golf, mostly unfettered, in 2020.

On the web

To read the full guidelines in place for Indiana golf courses, including tentative dates in which they could change, go to

Sign up for our daily headlines newsletter

Top headlines are sent daily