By Breanne Massey
Special to the Pioneer
A delayed opening of the Copper Point Golf Course took place May 1, 2020 to ensure the staff felt comfortable enforcing safety measures with guests during the pandemic.
Brian Schaal, Copper Point Golf Club’s general manager and the president of the BC Chapter of the National Golf Course Owners Association Canada (NGCOAC), spent several weeks collaborating with representatives from the Interior Health Authority (IHA), as well as the Environmental Public Health team leaders who report directly to Dr. Bonnie Henry to establish provincial guidelines and safety measures for golfers around the province once weekly over the last two months of the COVID-19 pandemic.
From there, Schaal developed safety protocols and policies for the Copper Point Golf Course to follow this summer.
“We did a trial run on April 24, 25 and 26 with one golf course,” he said. “We wanted to make sure our staff were comfortable with our guidelines and protocols so it translates to our guests when they come here. We want to go ahead of what the public health authority wants us to do.”
Schaal benefited from working with government and public health officials in his role with the NGCOAC.
“I think one of the advantages we had here is that I’m the president of the BC Golf Course (so) I’ve been dealing with guidelines before it was available to the public,” Schaal said, noting it was about a week of training staff on the safety protocols to ensure there were no questions or confusions going forward.
The safety measures that have been incorporated are immediately visible to guests throughout the whole experience of booking a tee time online through arriving to a “gatekeeper” who monitors and directs traffic in and out of the course, visible signage with reminders about how to stay safe, and managing the flow of golfers from the golf course landing to driving range to the first tee cycle to mitigate the risk of gatherings at the facility.
The maximum group who may schedule a tee time at Copper Point Golf Course is a total of four participants with 10-minute intervals between tee times as opposed to six-and-seven minutes intervals that took place in previous seasons at the course.
“We can control how many people show up here at noon on any given day, and that’s typically four, whereas if I went hiking, there could be 400 or 2,000 people when I show up there,” he explained. “It’s quite easy to watch the gatherings and limit the groups.”
In addition, the golf shop and the public washrooms will be restricted to one person at a time.
The public washrooms are being cleaned between three and four times daily and the golf shop is steaming clothes if an individual tries something on but doesn’t buy it to adhere to the provincial health guidelines.
There’s a visible yellow line taped through the middle of the store to prevent access to half of the store where an employee will be required to serve its visitors in a safe and thoughtful way.
“For us, because we’ve had to spread our tee times out, we’re not putting as many people through as we did last year to maintain that physical distancing,” Schaal explained. “In years past, each person that comes through spends so much money in the restaurant and so much money in the golf shop, but that’s just not happening right now. I think we all have to follow the mandate of the provincial health authorities.”
When asked if the projections for the golf course have seen a significant downturn as of mid-May, the response was immediate. Schaal explained, “It’s been devastating. I did a report here … and we were already half-a-million dollars behind where we were last year at this time. It’s definitely devastating for all businesses.”
But the hardest part of the way business is changing at the club has been regarding personnel.
“One of the toughest things has been to layoff staff that we’ve had here for years, even senior staff who have been with us for a long time,” he explained.
With the reduced number of golfers, the amended times occurring after each tee time and the removed touch points such as no rakes, scorecards or pencils being offered to the public upon playing a game, Schaal remains confident that golf is one of the few sports where implementing safety measures is fairly simple to uphold.
“Tennis, soccer and football are all close contact sports, but golf isn’t like that,” he said, indicating the rules of golf are constantly evolving.
“It’s so tough because we’ve always been a hospitality and tourism industry so it’s really hard to revert back to no handshakes, no high-fiving and controlling where the people go (on our course) and making sure people sanitize their hands before and after visiting,” he said. “We’re not providing the service that we typically do provide.”
But he’s eager to see how sportsmanship evolves over time in the golf industry.
“Last year, it would’ve been a two-stroke penalty to leave the flag stick in the hold but now it’s allowed,” he said, noting this would greatly improve social distancing measures throughout the pandemic.
Now, Schaal believes the game will adjust to reflect the current events taking place in all of our lives, but there was one change he would like to see take place.
“I think we erred when we called it social distancing,” Schaal explained. “It’s physical distancing not to be six feet away from someone else … Obviously six feet is not going to continue forever.
“I don’t know if a handshake is going to exist anymore. Some people might not believe in it, and another group may want to hug over time, and only time will tell what practices we keep, and what practices we get rid of.”
Schaal “embarrassed” over local behaviour toward visitors from other communities
While Schaal strongly advocates his biggest priority at Copper Point Golf Course is to keep the staff members and guests safe, he remains passionate about asking the Columbia Valley community to step up and welcome visitors who are willing to follow the safety measures that are the provincial standard with community pride.
“What I’m not proud of, as a local, is how some of the people here in the Columbia Valley have treated the Albertans,” he said. “Some of the Albertans coming here have been visiting the valley longer than some of us have been living here. I’ve even heard rumours of people having their tires slashed … we can do better than that. The key thing is following the guidelines when you come to our facility and wash your hands.”
Schaal was deeply disheartened to hear about a small group of people in the community who have been disrespectful to visitors from other communities, especially when many second-home owners are being respectful and following the provincial health guidelines.
“I was embarrassed as a local treating Albertans like that,” he said. “We should be above and beyond that. It was disappointing and embarrassing. I’m embarrassed that people who live here would treat others like that. They should be embarrassed of themselves.”
In fact, Schaal encouraged the community to consider being the change they want to see.
“If you feel compromised, then you should stay home and isolate yourself to make sure you’re OK,” he concluded.
Photo: Scott McClain, head golf professional, at the sanitizing station in the Golf Shop.