Area courses look for a green light

As a diversion from the coronavirus pandemic, Willmar area courses hope to open soon

041020.S.WCT.Golf courses Eagle Creek.jpg
Eagle Creek Golf Club in Willmar is waiting to open the course at the end of Minnesota's stay-at-home order on May 4. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

With Minnesotans under a stay-at-home order, golf courses around west central Minnesota are getting anxious to finally tee off.

In the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Tim Walz to combat the COVID-19 pandemic, people are allowed to go outside — while practicing appropriate social distancing — for walking, hiking, running, biking, hunting or fishing.

Golf was not included as an essential outdoor activity, leaving courses around the entire state in flux.

“We’re ready. We’ll fulfill anything we have to do to make sure social distancing is maintained,” said Olivia Golf Club clubhouse manager/PGA pro Greg Snow.

As of Thursday, Minnesota is one of 13 states with golf courses shut down along with: Illinois, Maine, Maryland, Massachusetts, Michigan, New Hampshire, New Jersey, New Mexico, Pennsylvania, Vermont, Washington, and Wisconsin.


Golf courses did get a reprieve Wednesday in Walz’ stay-at-home order update as maintenance crews are allowed back on the courses after previously being deemed non-essential workers.

“It’s a step in the right direction,” said Joe Wisocki, the general manager/director of golf at Eagle Creek Golf Club in Willmar. “It made sense that that’s the first step; let our crews start working and hopefully we’ll be golfing soon.”

Right now, the earliest golf courses can open up is May 4.

“We’re thankful that now maintenance can get out (on the course),” said Isaac Nelson, the golf pro at Little Crow Country Club in Spicer. “We can protect the asset. Soon, we’d love to see the golf shop open.”

At Valley Golf Course in Willmar, the Ebnet family has done some cleanup around the course, trimming trees and hauling branches. Nick and Peg Ebnet own and manage the course.

“My son is in college and he’s home right now, so he’s been helping,” Nick said. “My daughter is also in college and she’s been raking and cleaning. … Kids always need cash so right now it’s like: ‘OK, here’s a rake.’”

Courses around the state are receiving daily updates through the Minnesota PGA, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and Minnesota Golf Association. The golf industry has lobbied the governor’s office to try and allow golfers to play while practicing social distancing. A petition to allow golf in Minnesota has more than 43,000 signatures as of Thursday.

Some of the ideas local courses have had in combating the spread of coronavirus include: Single-rider carts and wiping down carts after use; limiting the number of patrons in the clubhouse; and pre-paying for rounds.


“We would have done with the cups where the ball doesn’t go all the way down and the flags wouldn’t have come out so you could get your ball out (of the hole) with your putter,” Wisocki said. “Another idea is having an attendant at the range so no one else is touching the balls and the baskets.”

Nick Ebnet added: “I’m getting one of these credit-card things where if I see someone who’s not a member, I can just swipe (the card) on the course.”

Courses are still waiting it out as the governor’s updated order did not include golf in the approved recreational activities.

During his press conference Wednesday, Walz said he is able to be strategic in what can open over the next month.

“This hasn’t been done before, so we’re learning, listening and being smart about it,” Walz said. “I’m being very cognizant about hearing people when they’re asking and saying: ‘This activity should work.’ Please keep working with us on this.”

Until the stay-at-home order is lifted, the courses will get everything ready for that first official tee time.

“We’re working hard and pushing, hopefully not pushing (Walz) too hard,” Snow said. “We hope to be part of the solution rather than part of the problem. The guidelines we made, I’ll ask for those again. We don’t need six people in (the clubhouse) at one time. We can figure out how to make this work.”

Nelson added: “We have the green light once they say we can go.”


041020.S.WCT.Golf courses Valley Golf.jpg
Along with the rest of the state, Valley Golf Course in Willmar got some relief when Gov. Tim Walz' updated stay-at-home order allowed maintenance workers to begin work on getting courses ready. Joe Brown / West Central Tribune

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