golf-5340563_virus.jpg

The first tee is stacked, and that is a common scene for golf courses around the country right now. In this year of unrest, golf has been one of the stabilizing activities. Things have been altered slightly, but the game remains the same.

In the Lake Martin area, spring breaks turned into early summer as the lake and golf courses played vital roles in creating sanity and sanctuary for so many. This year also brought true spring weather conditions, as well. Aside from the rainy days in later winter months, March, April and May included some of the most beautiful weather in my memory to the area.

Oh, we did have a couple days of violent weather (leading me to get a new roof), but aside from those few days, it has been beautiful. People found solace in making Tallapoosa County and the surrounding area a place of refuge during the pandemic.

I was pleasantly surprised to learn that Alexander City fared well financially this spring when Alexander City Mayor Tommy Spraggins announced the city’s tax boom from this season. Before that report, I certainly thought we would be in the hole, but thanks to Lake Martin and the beauty of the area, that wasn’t the case. Anyone who has visited Willow Point or took a boat ride on the lake in March, April, May or June knows that the reason for the boom is obvious. It appears that almost everyone with a cabin or house on the waterfront made Lake Martin a primary residence this spring.

While visiting Willow Point Country Club to play golf or any of our other local golf courses, golfers most likely rode in carts alone, rather than sharing the cart with a fellow competitor or partner. This was a responsible decision by those in the golf industry to maintain social distancing during the pandemic. Household members were allowed to ride together, but everyone else was required to ride solo.

This did a few things to the game. For the player, it sped up play, as everyone could drive a cart directly to the golf ball; that was good. For the golf staff, things were much busier than in seasons past. In chatting with a few of the cart barn employees, they sent out every cart in their fleet almost daily since March. The workers not only cleaned the carts when they were returned but also disinfected them. Normally, trash disposal, a quick wash, spot-check tire inflation, park the cart back in its spot, plug it into the charger and say goodnight to that buggy.

This year, more times than not, carts were returned from morning play to be run during a second round of golf in the afternoon. It has been a double-duty season for the carts, which made it double-duty for the golf pros and staff. I have to hand it to the golf pros and their employees who accommodated all of the golfers so well this year. They’ve done an excellent job.

Think about this, too: Not only was the workload increased on the golf shop staff but also, maintenance employees had to step it up during this time. The single rider situation for golf carts doubled the traffic of tire wear and tear on the grounds of the golf course. With sand bottles for filling divots removed from carts, repairing divots fell upon maintenance crews. With larger numbers of golfers playing daily, hole locations and tee markers were changed more frequently. While manicuring acres and acres of grass, these people had to coordinate the shorter available time to perform their duties with a greater number of golfers on the course.

Do something nice, and the next time you see a maintenance person working on the course, a pro shop staff member or cart barn employee, share your gratitude with them in the work they have performed for your benefit. When you, the customer, acknowledge the extra effort that these employees put into your recreation and enjoyment, it pumps up their morale. Normally, they tend to work even harder knowing that you have taken notice and appreciate their efforts and craft.

Last week I made my way down to Dothan, Alabama, for the 2020 Press Thornton Future Masters Golf Tournament at Dothan Country Club. This is one of Alabama’s premier junior tournaments and one that I have visited for recruiting purposes yearly since becoming the golf coach at Central Alabama Community College. In 2000, our own Lee Williams won this prestigious junior golf tournament.

This year’s Future Masters was a bit different from years past. This past year, Dr. Press Thornton passed away. His absence was certainly felt by many, but his sons, wife and Dothan Country Club members were still in full force to provide a tremendous experience for hundreds of junior golfers participating in this annual event. Due to the COVID-19 virus, some local rules were in place: Players received a two-shot penalty if they removed flagsticks from the holes, and rakes were not in place, so players could lift their balls, smooth out the sand and place their balls for sand bunker shots.

Although this is so very different to what we know as normal play, I was happy they were competing. Another odd thing about this year’s Future Masters was the absence of NCAA golf coaches in attendance. Normally, nearly every SEC, ACC, Sunbelt, Conference USA and a host of other D-1 conference coaches, as well as D-2 college coaches from far and wide attends to recruit junior golfers at this event. This year was different. The NCAA put a hold on NCAA D-1 and D-2 coaches from recruiting in person until the end of August 2020, so along with a couple of D-3 coaches in attendance, I had the run of the course and players this year.

I think I made the best of my time, as well. I was especially pleased to watch an incoming CACC freshman golfer, Hayden Carner, play his practice and first round at this tournament. This gave me plenty of ideas for assisting him upon his arrival in Alexander City in August. I have to say, he’s a gutty player. He didn’t win the tournament, but he did make the cut. In round one, he made a double bogey and a triple bogey but still shot a score of 71 for the day. That shows me that he has a lot of grit, heart and determination, not to mention some talent.

I also spotted a few other young golfers that I now have my eye on for the fall of 2021. It was great to be able to get back on the recruiting trail. Watching these young golfers, who have also suffered with an upside-down world in recent months, showed that they have the initiative and drive to develop and work on their golf games. It was a good trip.

Oh yes, I have to share this: A 14-year old boy fired scores of 62, 62, 73 to win his age group by one stroke. Holy cow! Imagine yourself being a competing 14-year-old, shooting scores of 67, 67, 67 in a junior golf tournament and getting walloped by four strokes. That is amazing golf. Great players of the future are most certainly in the making today.

In recent weeks, many people have asked me what the plans are for Trojan Golf this coming fall. Let me assure you, it will certainly be out of the norm, but we plan to be doing our thing. The fall season was cut short a bit, which forced me to cancel our favorite tournament of the year, The Trojan Invitational at Willow Point Country Club in November. Of all of the courses our college teams play, the tournaments played at Willow Point always stick out as the favorite ones for all of the junior college golfers. 

Even with a shortened season ahead, I think that we are blessed to have a fall season for which to prepare. At the moment, our spring season has not been impeded, and we are hoping for a full and competitive spring. After losing the spring season in 2020, I am biting at the bit to get my golf team back together and make another run for the 2021 NJCAA National Championship title. We will be practicing social distancing as well as possible and abiding by all state-mandated rules and regulations for the safety of these young people, their families and all concerned.

I feel confident in saying that golf is in a good place right now. The growth is evident. I feel blessed to have been involved in this sport for nearly my whole entire adult life (boy, that’s been a long time, too). 

Thank you to all of you golf front-liners for allowing us the opportunity to enjoy the activity we love – golf. Through your efforts, you are helping a large number of people to relieve the stress of today’s uncertainties. Your efforts have not gone unnoticed. Thank you. 

~ Dave Jennings is the men᾿s golf coach at Central Alabama Community College.