Golf is more than a sport for Dennis Orender — it’s his preferred form of exercise.
The 65-year-old, who has lived in Santa Fe for the past five years, said he tried other ways of remaining active, but he always returned to golf.
“I can’t do treadmills, stuff like that,” Orender said. “I can do it for a little bit, but I don’t follow through because it is just so brutal. [With] golf, I am always working on something and I’m not keeping score because I’m not going to like what I see with my overall score. But I hit shots!”
Usually, Orender spends a couple of hours a few days a week walking the Marty Sanchez Links de Santa Fe — even on Friday with cold temperatures and a 20 mph wind that gusted into the 30s.
With community centers, gyms and other athletic facilities shuttered as the city and state try to contain the COVID-19 outbreak, golf courses are the last pay-to-play arenas open to the community.
Both public courses — Santa Fe Country Club and Marty Sanchez — have seen plenty of activity this week, but they also are taking the coronavirus seriously and trying to provide a sanitized environment for patrons.
Graham Richardson, Santa Fe Country Club’s PGA professional, said the course was averaging between 60 and 70 rounds played per day earlier this week before inclement weather Thursday and Friday slowed it to a trickle. Marty Sanchez, which had as many as 150 rounds per day last weekend, had about a dozen golfers circulating the course Friday and a couple more on the driving range.
Richardson expressed hope and wariness about the golf courses remaining open, knowing how fluid the situation is.
“People are really excited to get out of the house,” he said. “But we’re also taking a lot of precautions, and it might be something that evolves over the next few days.”
Both courses have instituted similar policies that include adhering to social distancing and how many people touch things like golf carts, golf pins and the holes.
Santa Fe Country Club and Marty Sanchez both limit the number of people in the golf shop (one customer at the country club; no more than three at Marty Sanchez, with a 6-foot distance between each other). All golf carts are sanitized at least twice a day or after each use and they are limited to one golfer.
Groups are limited to no more than four, and the pairings are spread out over the course. Richardson even went so far as to limit tee times to account for golf cart use, but it also limits the amount of golfers on the course.
Bunkers had all rakes removed, as well as the sand bottles found in carts. The restaurants also only offer takeout, and tables were removed from dining areas.
Alo Brodsky, the PGA head professional at Marty Sanchez, said both courses are encouraging people to walk the course so the golf carts will be available for customers who truly need them.
“We want to be here for the disabled folks, so if they do fit that and need to take the golf cart, only one person can be in the cart,” Brodsky said. “We are also urging people to pay over the phone with a credit card so they limit time in the golf shop and we don’t have hands touching each other.”
The courses diverged as far as how to deal with golfers touching the pins and cups. Richardson said the country club course removed the pins and gives customers a chart that shows where the holes are on the greens. Meanwhile, Brodsky said Marty Sanchez placed “false bottoms” so the balls do not fall into the cups.
While Santa Fe Country Club closed its driving range, Marty Sanchez kept its open, with all of the buckets cleaned after use.
Brodsky said the measures are important for everyone’s safety, and he added that he felt it was important that the community have an outlet during these difficult times.
“We don’t want to risk anything, but we also think that is important [to remain open],” Brodsky said. “I think everybody is noticing that everyone is pretty on edge right now. I think it’s important that there are some outlets available for people. This does seem to be one of the safer ones.”
Richardson and Brodsky recognize the situation could change quickly, and both are prepared for an eventual closing, whether it’s from an order by state government or a decision by the courses themselves.
“Our [general manager David Nowell] sent out an email with an update this morning with the date in bold in the title of the email,” Richardson said, “because tomorrow, we may have a new set of guidelines.
“It is day by day, at this point.”