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Innisfail golfers embrace joy amidst COVID

Labour Day Classic runs this weekend

INNISFAIL – With spring underscored by fear and uncertainty from a once in a lifetime pandemic, there was only gloom on the minds of diehard local golfers.

But five months later the gloom is nowhere to be seen, heard or felt on the links. There are just smiles.

“We are so happy to be where we are. When we started we were looking at maybe not even having a season and once we realized we were it didn’t look very good at all of having any events,” said Jim Boomer, the Innisfail Golf Club’s head golf professional.

“All through this people were saying, ‘so, why? Let’s look at this. Why can’t we golf?’ Well, as it turned out we could.

“As long as we are able to do it safely, which to this point we’ve proven we can, and if we can do it for another 40 days, we got ‘er.”

All that was needed for everyone at the Innisfail club was a commitment to adjust. Events with shotgun starts were out. The club decided to do a full schedule of events with tee-time formats, including the Junior Open on July 2, Ladies Open on July 18, Senior Open on July 28 and the members-only Club Championship on Aug. 15 and 16.

Next up is the Labour Day Classic running Sept. 5 to 7, the men’s open tourney and the club’s longest running event that has been held since 1935.

“It’s a real social thing because we have lots of guys who have played it 20 or 30 years, and they meet up with the same guys and it’s a social event as much as a tournament,” he said.

The Labour Day Classic is going back to match play format after a one-year hiatus. Boomer said last week this year’s men’s open had attracted 90 entries. With entry registration closing Aug. 26 he was hopeful the event would ultimately be filled with 120 golfers.

Boomer believes the road to a successful COVID-era season began when golf associations got together with clubs to ultimately persuade the provincial government with a safe plan for golf. Vigilance with safety and having full cooperation from players were key to its success.

“The provincial government gave us a compliance exemption and because of that golf could open. So I think people were really appreciative of the fact they were able to golf when there are so many things that people obviously could not do,” he said.

“We feel we’ve had a golf season that has probably for the most part not had that many negatives to it. We’ve had good weather and everybody has complied.”

Boomer said the social distancing rule is the biggest one for today’s COVID-era golf. Employees who work within two metres of someone else must wear masks. Driving range players can only strike balls from every second stall. Carts and baskets are sanitized after every use.

“Because everything is in tee-times you keep everyone in their time interval, which means you don’t have that chance of grouping up like you would if we were running shotgun starts,” he said.

Going into September Boomer is also confident the club will do a lot better financially than what was once feared last spring.

The corporate tournaments did not happen but there was increased green fee traffic and good weather, especially for most of August.

 “It’s been way, way better than we ever thought when we started. There was lots of talk at the start that if golf courses can’t open for the whole year there is a good chance they may not be around next year,” he said, noting the challenges of collecting memberships.

The Innisfail Golf Club currently has 330 adult members, with another 50 to 60 junior members.

“If you had to give up a year it could be disastrous," he said.

That did not happen, and the Innisfail Golf Club is confidently heading into the last weeks of a once worrisome golf season. After the Labour Day Classic, the club will host the 34th Annual Pro-Am on Sept. 15, the Mixed Open on Sept. 20 and the Iron Man/Iron Maiden event on Sept. 26.

There will also be a Heritage Day event on Sept. 27 for members only.

“We are going to play the original layout of the golf course prior to 2006 when we brought 27 holes in, added new holes and changed the layout,” he said.

The club will officially close its unforgettable COVID-19 season on Oct. 12.