With members of the community taking precautions to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, many are looking to outdoor activities, including golf.
The Quail Valley Golf Course, located off of La Quinta Drive in Missouri City, was closed beginning Easter weekend for the remainder of the month of April because of the coronavirus pandemic, said Tyson Stittleburg, the PGA general manager at the course.
After reopening May 1, Stittleburg said the city-owned golf course recorded the highest number of rounds played in any single month. In May, 6,501 rounds of golf were played at Quail Valley, up 28% from 5,070 in May 2019.
“The month of May was actually really, really good for us from a golf standpoint,” Stittleburg said in a June 4 phone interview. “Believe it or not, we actually did a record amount of rounds in the month of May.”
Stittleburg attributes the increase in part to people who are working from home having more flexible schedules.
“They're not spending that extra time commuting; They're not spending extra time doing things at the office that they maybe could skip; and I think people are, in some ways, just being more efficient with their time,” Stittleburg said. “That's allowing them more free time, and fortunately, people are choosing golf.”
Stittleburg said golf lends itself to social distancing fairly easily.
“When this all started out, I was talking to our city manager, and we were kind of doing the math,” Stittleburg said. “I said, ‘We have 300 acres of green space on our golf course, and if at any given time, we have 100 people out there, you're talking to one person for every 3 acres.’ That's pretty, easy to socially distance when you look at it that way.”
While he would love to see the upward trend in the number of rounds played to continue, Stittleburg said he expects the number to slowly come down.
“I think part of that is going to be because of the summer heat here in Houston,” Stittleburg said. “We’re just going to have less of what we call a casual golfer. They’re not going to come out and play when it's 100 degrees.”
The record-setting number of rounds comes even as the golf course is spacing out the tee times. While Quail Valley typically has seven or eight minutes between tee times, Stittleburg said they have been spread out to every 15 minutes.
“That’s allowed a couple of things,” Stittleburg said. “That’s allowed more space between groups on the golf course. But, it’s also allowed us, because we've only been allowing one person per golf cart, it’s allowed us to restrict the amount of time carts out on the course, and it's helped our flow move a lot easier.”
In addition to only allowing one rider per cart, a restriction that was lifted by the governor June 4, Stittleburg said Quail Valley has taken a number of other precautions to keep patrons safe during the coronavirus pandemic. The golf course will continue to follow the industry standard for safety precautions during the remainder of the coronavirus pandemic, he said.
Quail Valley is cleaning common touch points frequently; is sanitizing golf carts between each round; and has removed water stations, bunk racks and other common touch points on the golf course. Additionally, golfers are asked not to remove the flags on each hole, and the cups in the holes have been turned upside down to minimize a player needing to touch the ground or the flag, Stittleburg said.
Even though the higher number of rounds played contributes to the golf course’s revenue, Stittleburg said Quail Valley has still been negatively affected from having many banquets and events canceled. Last year, 26% of Quail Valley’s business was banquets and events.
He said people are starting to show interest in booking events and that they have about a half dozen scheduled for June. For these gatherings, the golf course is taking a number of safety precautions.
“I don’t see that bouncing back as quickly as golf,” Stittleburg said. “Primarily because those [events] are predicated on the fact that you’re in large group settings. In golf, you can go out and play with four people. Any type of event you're talking about 20-50 people, up to 200 or 300. That's just a completely different ballgame."
The Bluebonnet Grille, the on-site restaurant at Quail Valley, is currently operating at 50% capacity. Stittleburg said in accordance with Gov. Greg Abbott’s Open Texas plan and pending city staff approval, on June 12, the restaurant will expand its capacity to 75%.
“Like everybody, we're doing our best to service as many people as we can but do it safely and provide an experience that is as close to what you were expecting or wanting,” Stittleburg said. “I think when you talk about outdoor activities like golf, people are fairly comfortable being outdoors. It's provided them a great sense of normalcy during this time.”