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Golfers take advantage of courses close to home

"We had the best June that I have seen in the 20 years ," said Cam Jacques, Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club GM.

A closed U.S. border along with other travel restrictions has limited golf getaways across southern Alberta.

"A lot of the people who are golfing this year are locals who were not able to go south because the border is closed. Calgary is too far away, so they end up coming here," said Medicine Hat Golf and Country Club GM Cam Jacques.

He described a brief exchange in the club's pro shop earlier this summer that was typical of many visitors to the 18-hole course.

"There were four young men checking in for their round and one mentioned they were on their annual golf trip. I asked where they were from and he said 'Medicine Hat'. He said they usually go to Montana or B.C. They came here," said Jacques.

Golfing close to home has been the motto as pandemic protocols have sent people to their local golf course in record numbers.

"We had the best June that I have seen in the 20 years I've been here," said Jacques, adding, 'the tee sheet was up 25 per cent."

And with the increased business, golf cart availability has been at a premium. The club has eased the stress by purchasing 15 clear vinyl dividers, which are then placed between the seats.

 "Our elderly members and guests who are concerned can ride safely," he said, adding usage is also up when the temperature tops 30C.

 "Forty per cent of our golfers walk, but on really hot days they like to ride," said Jacques.

Medicine Hat, like most courses, took advantage of the federal government's wage subsidy program, allowing the club to have the same staffing levels as last year.  "It has helped immensely. It has been a saviour for us," said Jacques.

 At Lethbridge's Henderson Lake Golf Course, the demand is so high on hot days that all golf carts are usually on the course by 9 a.m.

Head professional Cam Waldbauer said, "We're an older club and more people choose to ride by themselves."

 And not only carts have been affected by COVID-19. Waldbauer said Henderson Lake has introduced all the required protocols while dealing with a season that has been "stupid busy."

Our tee sheet has been insane, especially busy in the twilight," said Waldbauer, adding that the pace has eased slightly in recent weeks.

'We have had a lot of new people show up this year to join as members or to just play casually. People came to us because they couldn't go camping or play slo pitch. Some had played in the past and then they realized they had nothing to do," he said.

'It's has been tough. We had to cut staff by 20 per cent, but business is up by 20 per cent," said Waldbauer, adding they have been able to take advantage of the federal wage subsidy program.

Henderson Lake has had several club events followed the COVID-19 protocols with relative ease. “After the round, we gave people food in a bag and then give the prize presentation and then move on."

At Picture Butte Golf Club, head pro Jamie Gerlitz took a quick break from his hectic schedule to reflect on his challenging year.

"We are lucky to be golfing," said Gerlitz, adding his 27-hole club has been "very, very busy" since opening in early May.

He said "pretty well everyone takes a cart at Picture Butte," adding the only time it slows down is when "it gets a little too hot."

"It gets a bit quieter when it gets over 30 C, but we are still busy."

He said guests and members at his club have "been really good when it comes to COVID-19 protocols."

Despite a downturn in clubhouse business and a shortage of corporate events, Gerlitz said 2020 has turned out better than he expected.

 "We are just happy to be here. It could've gone the other way."

Gary Poignant is a freelance writer and regular contributor to This story was funded by the Facebook Journalism Project Supporting Local News Coverage of COVID-19 Program via the Local Media Foundation.

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