While the local economy continues to open slowly, finding a way to get outside and be active with friends or family has proven to be difficult during the pandemic.

For those looking for a new challenge or maybe looking to rediscover an old passion, local golf courses were deemed an essential business and continue to welcome avid golfers and newcomers alike to enjoy the fresh air while being physically active.

“It has been steady pretty much this entire time,” said Daryn Buholt, club pro at Schifferdecker Municipal Golf Course in Joplin. “With the weather getting better recently, people were wanting to get outside more, and luckily, we were able to provide them with a golf course to come play. We have had to turn some people away (to keep in line with the safety protocols), but it was important for us to keep our staff and customers safe.”

Courses around the country were given certain safety measures to cope with the COVID-19 pandemic. Tee times were spaced out further, 16 minutes in between each group with carts — which are cleaned and sanitized after each use and limited to one rider unless its a family outing. Flag sticks are no longer allowed to be removed to avoid the spread of germs, with the cups having a safety device in them, or turned upside down, so the ball will rest near the surface for easy retrieval. Nearly all of these safety protocols are still in place, and they will continue to be for the foreseeable future.

“We are going to keep these safety guidelines in place as long as they need to be,” said Kyler Snow, course manager at Neosho Golf Course. “We are going to take every precaution that we can to ensure the safety of everyone involved.”

For the most part, those precautions have been met with praise by golfing enthusiasts. The sentiment by many local golfers is a gratitude for having the game available to them during the pandemic.

“Golf has always been a reprieve from day-to-day stress for me,” said Michael Snearly, a local golfer who frequents the area public courses. “It's one sport I really do enjoy, especially as I've gotten older. During this pandemic, it's even more of an escape than normal. Just getting away from the everyday hustle and bustle is rewarding. I think I'm more appreciative now. With many things being closed, it's really nice to have golf as an outlet to get outside and have fun.”

Those feelings are reciprocated by local course officials. Knowing they have an opportunity to allow people to properly social distance from others while still offering a competitive way to stay active outside during one of these stressful times is a job they appreciate.

“It’s been a blessing,” Buholt said. “We are doing what we love doing, providing an outlet for the citizens of Joplin and the Four-State Area to come out, let loose, get away from reality for a little bit and have some fun. Whether you play good or bad, hopefully you are having a really good time out in the fresh air.”

“We are blessed to just open during these times,” Snow said. “We get to give these people a source of enjoyment playing golf, allowing them to get outside from being cooped up in the house. It is a great service to provide.”

While golf can be a challenging, frustrating and enjoyable game all at once for anyone who plays regularly, picking up the game without ever having held a club in your life can be daunting. That shouldn’t discourage anyone wanting to try something new. In fact, many of the local courses have a driving range for practice, and nearly every course offers lessons and welcomes the opportunity to introduce people to the game.

“If you are unsure, you can just get a bucket of balls and come out to the driving range and give it a go,” Snow said. “When you get comfortable, give nine holes a try. We are open to everyone out here, not just PGA- or LPGA-type players. We just want you to have a good time and enjoy being outside.”

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