By Parisa Braun
Coronavirus health mandates have closed facilities for two months and ended routine practices for Stanford Golf, but as the student athletes adjust to eased COVID-19 restrictions, they’re regaining skills through the safety oriented, modified opening of the course and utilizing available resources in preparation for the upcoming fall season.
Throughout the closure, the golf course was maintained to the best extent possible. As health mandates eased for recreational activities, the golf facilities have been granted permission to take “baby steps to reopen,” said Conrad Ray, interim general manager of the course. On July 15, the course got word that the University’s general counsel and Santa Clara County signed off allowing a fully-fledged foursome grouping for the public on the course, one of the first major changes made.
“We are stressing safety first,” Ray said. “There are a bunch of protocols that we use for our members and users when they show up to play.”
In addition to a reduced number of tee times, these protocols include no rakes in the bunkers, no touching flagsticks, no shared equipment and a single household ridership in the golf carts.
The two-month closure and now the gradual opening of the course which will only allow a limited number of players has caused the facilities to experience some financial strain. Despite these setbacks, Ray said the course has been able to get by.
“We have a strong membership group that are dues-paying members, and also the athletic department underpins the golf course in its functions,” Ray said. The Clubhouse restaurant on the course continues to offer take-out, which has also been helpful in generating some income.
In recent months, the Professional Golfers’ Association of America (PGA) has resumed tournaments with many modifications to abide by the guidelines put in place by the Center of Disease Control (CDC). However, it is unlikely that the collegiate season will look similar to the professional one.
“The PGA Tour has the resources and the ability to create an almost impenetrable bubble; unfortunately, that isn’t the reality in college athletics,” said Anne Walker, head coach of the women’s golf team.
The golf season, while still likely to happen, will continue with a multitude of restrictions. Some of these constraints include no volunteers, player input live-scoring, playing with the same group all three rounds (possibly teammates), no rakes in the bunkers, no touching flagsticks, no shuttling in golf carts, no communal items, eating only take-out or pre-packaged meals and no buffet service or team meals at restaurants.
With a prolonged break like the team has experienced, it can be expected that the lack of competitive events will impact the golfers’ tournament readiness when they do get the chance to play.
“It definitely takes a couple of rounds to get back into the mode of competitive golf and especially, when you have a chance to win an event, the lack of tournament play can make you more nervous than normal,” Walker said.
Ray notes the fact that everyone from around the country coming into the season is “in the same boat.” The break has made everyone a little rusty. However, players will still be expected to stay disciplined in regaining their skill.
In preparation for the upcoming season, the golf team has utilized new technologies in order to maintain player skill level under the circumstances caused by COVID-19. One of the highlighted devices used in the varsity practice area is TrackMan, a doppler-based radar system that compares swings, tracks distances, club delivery patterns and swing data.
“Most of the guys know when they are playing well, and when they are playing well ‘what their numbers are.’ So with a device like this you can go back and hit balls and try to get your numbers back into those parameters,” Ray said.
TrackMan takes the level that the players are already at, their ‘numbers,’ and offers a goal for them to strive for in the future. The team has utilized TrackMan for a few years, and the data it has collected such as ball speed, club speed, the loft of the ball, swing angle and the direction of the club head can be gathered to create a visual where golfers can see how their stats have changed over time.
The break from the often gruesome practice schedule has also offered some silver linings both physically and mentally.
“We are seeing so many young players with overuse injuries; I think this extended break may even have extended some players’ careers and allowed nagging injuries to heal,” Walker said.
The team hopes, with the reopening of facilities and use of new technologies, that they will be able to regain skill levels and have a successful season in the fall amidst the continuous changes.
Contact Parisa Braun at parisabraun ‘at’ gmail.com.