Optional carts, flagsticks in holes and one rake per group; welcome to golf’s new normal in the age of COVID-19.
In the most significant practical step towards the resumption of professional golf, the 54-hole Scottsdale AZ Open tees off at the Talking Stick Golf Club on Tuesday in Arizona with local residents Steve Allan and Andrew Buckle flying the Australian flag on the leaderboard and Steven Alker representing the Kiwis.
PGA TOUR stars such as Joel Dahmen, Kevin Streelman and Alex Cejka are in the 162-man field vying for a share of the $US130,000 in prize money as players look ahead to the scheduled restart of the PGA TOUR at the Charles Schwab Challenge in Texas from June 11.
Allan and Buckle played a practice round together at Talking Stick on Monday and although courses in Arizona have remained open through the pandemic, the 2002 Australian Open winner concedes that the new normal will take some adjusting.
“There will be at least one cart per group so they can have the rake getting driven around and there will be hand sanitiser in the carts,” explained Allan, whose golf the past two months has consisted of practise at TPC Scottsdale and rounds with his three boys.
“You don’t have to drive but you can all have your own cart if you want to.
“It’s weird but it’s a weirdness that we’ve sort of gotten used to at the golf course.
“Everyone’s aware of it but because the courses have been open we’ve been dealing with it a little bit.
“You still talk to everyone but there’s no hand-shaking going on, no one takes the pin out, there are no rakes in the bunkers.
“Some courses shut on their own but we never shut down completely here. A lot of the private clubs had no guests allowed and I’ve only been to TPC Scottsdale and everyone there gets a cart.
“Not a lot of walking goes on here anyway so generally it’s been four carts per group.”
With 13-year-old son Liam on the bag the next three days and predicted temperatures nudging 100-degrees Fahrenheit, Allan will take up the cart option only if Liam can ride with him, the pair reuniting as an on-course team after Liam’s successful five-week stint last summer as his dad played in Monday qualifiers.
Runner-up in this event in a playoff two years ago, the coronavirus lockdown came at the worst possible time for Allan.
With limited playing opportunities the past two years, the 46-year-old recaptured some of his old form to be tied for 16th at the Australian Open last December and then shot 64 in the final round to finish top-15 at the New Zealand Open.
That was his last competitive round before the shutdown so he is understandably cautious about his prospects of playing well this week.
“I really was playing well. It was the best I’d played in a long time so it’s bad timing for sure,” Allan said.
“I played a practice round today and the game still feels rusty, not really ready for a tournament.
“You never know. When you get going hopefully it will fire up.
“I wouldn’t say that I’m 100 per cent feeling awesome about my chances.
“I found when I started practising again that I needed something to try and work towards otherwise it felt like any golf was so far away.
“I entered this a few weeks ago, the practice has become a bit more meaningful and with a bit more purpose.
“I’ve played this event the past two years so I knew it was on all the time. I wasn’t really sure that I wanted to play but as we were getting closer and golf was staying open, I saw the field was close to getting full and thought I should play something.”
As for what a three-round tournament in Arizona means for the prospect of a PGA TOUR resumption next month, Allan concedes there is still an air of uncertainty.
“The tour is four weeks away from starting up again and a lot can happen in four weeks,” he said.
“If states open up the numbers could improve or get worse and if they get worse that’s going to be an issue for the tour to have to deal with.
“They’re definitely talking as though they are going to go ahead but there’s certainly a feeling of ‘let’s wait and see’ for sure.”