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Northlanders don't take golf for granted


June 5, 2020

It's one of my favorite sports stories. It's also a golf story that shows a little of the craziness, stubbornness, and sisu of golfers in northeastern Minnesota.

For many years, I played in a two-man golf scramble in Eveleth, home of the U.S. Hockey Hall of Fame. It's about an hour's drive from Cloquet to the eastern side of Minnesota's famous Iron Range. This is mining country and the weather can be as tough as the ore dug out of the earth.

The Eveleth golf scramble tournament is scheduled in May of each year, on fishing opener weekend and Mother's Day.

The weather, as most know, can be unpredictable in early May. My playing partner was Bob Hill. The Eveleth golf course is a nine-hole venue just off of U.S. Highway 53.

A few years back, the weather forecast for the tourney was mostly overcast, with temperatures in the 30s, windy, with a chance for snow flurries or a rain-snow mix. You know the kind of weather I'm describing. But our golf season is short, and all 18 two-man teams came and competed. The weather was not a deterrent.

After checking the antifreeze in the golf cart, deciding whether to wear gloves or choppers and putting foot warmers in the golf shoes, we started playing.

On the third hole, it got darker and started snowing and blowing gigantic flakes. We were on the tee, waiting for the group in front of us to move on, with our backs to the wind. St. Mary's Lake is adjacent to the golf course. Bob, in a very short while, was covered in white from the snow squall.

Bob saw a boat out on the lake. He tilted his head back to me and in all seriousness said: "Steve, can you believe that they are fishing in this kind of weather?"

I looked at him and laughed.

Golfers and fishing advocates in our region are nuts.

Depending on which statistics are used - and even though our golf courses are closed for nearly six months every year - Minnesota ranks first in the nation in number of golfers per capita and internet hits on the word "golf." Research hasn't determined if it is pent-up anxiety because of no golf available for so long or exactly why Minnesotans have a need for the game. Higher than in Florida or Arizona with golf available year round. Minnesota golfers are unabated.

In 2020, golfers and non-golfers are facing the new and the bigger challenge of the coronavirus pandemic. What first seemed like an inconvenience and insignificant disease has now taken more lives in the United States (100,000-plus) than Americans that were killed in any war since World War II.

Even with record snowfall in much of Minnesota, after a mild February, many golf courses in the southern part of the state opened in March. All courses statewide were optimistic for a potentially record golf year. Then, in mid-March, to help prevent the rapid spread of this disease, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz closed schools and businesses, including golf courses.

In April, Walz lifted some restrictions, including those regarding maintenance work on golf courses. While maintaining social distancing and other safety rules, crews could return to upkeep "critical turf," including greens, tee boxes, and fairways. Two weeks after that, Walz issued Executive Order 20-38, allowing golf courses and businesses that sold fresh fish bait to open.

"It's important for us to stay active and enjoy the outdoors while preventing the spread of COVID-19," Walz said. "This will allow Minnesotans to take advantage of more opportunities outside, while doing their part. People need to understand how serious this is."

Some clubhouses remain closed except for washrooms, which also have rules. Other courses now have options for outdoor seating at the 19th hole. Call ahead for information on food and drink availability.

The pandemic has definitely changed how courses operate and the scheduling of fundraiser golf events, weddings and parties, tournaments, league play and more.

But the courses are open.

Where can you get your golf fix? Keep reading and find out. Enjoy.


New ground rules

Some of the golf course COVID-19 guidelines

include the following:

• Staggered tee times, or other measures to

separate golfers;

Writer Steve Korby and his son, Ryan, at the Cloquet Country Club.

• Unless golfers are from same household, keep at least 6 feet apart;

• Remove anything (rakes, ball washers, water coolers) someone might touch;

• Raise the cup sleeve, eliminating the need to touch the cup or flag;

• Share riding carts only with family members;

• Carpool to course only with family members;

• Clean and sanitize carts after every round.

• Many courses are taking tee times online only and require payment by credit card in advance to limit interactions.


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