Selah golf courses reopen with social distancing in place

After being closed for nearly two months due to the statewide stay-at-home order, Selah’s two golf courses — River Ridge Golf Course and the Yakima Elks Golf & Country Club — reopened to the public May 5.

Golf courses were among the businesses and activities that were allowed to resume under phase one of Washington’s four-phase reopening plan designed to limit the spread of the coronavirus. Social distancing rules must be followed, but despite some minor inconveniences, most golfers are just happy to be playing again.

“It’s better to have some golf than none at all,” said Marty Griffith, the new owner and general manager at River Ridge. “In a normal year, we would have been going strong for two months by now. It’s been a tough start to the season, but it’s good to be back.” 

The new rules include two golfers at a time per hole (groups of four are typical), one person per cart, and static pins on each of the holes (putting greens now have flag bumpers instead of holes to limit contact with the pins). 

Like other golf courses around the state, River Ridge and the Elks Club are also staggering tee times by 15-20 minutes to minimize physical contact between golfers.

“It’s been pretty busy since we opened, but the overall volume is lower because we can’t do foursomes right now,” Griffith said. 

The story is similar over at the Elks, a private club that sits adjacent to River Ridge on the southeast end of town. Members have been showing up from open until close, but there just aren’t as many people yet.

“The pace of play is faster, but there are fewer people on the course,” said Elks golf pro Kelly DeShaw. “It’s been different, for sure. But everyone is excited to start playing again.”

DeShaw said members have been showing up at daylight to tee off, and the course has remained relatively busy through late afternoon. But until foursomes can resume, and until large gatherings are allowed in the bar and restaurant, the club feels like it’s in a holding pattern.

“We’re hoping the twosome rule won’t last much longer,” he said. “Oregon, Idaho and Montana never closed their golf courses and have been playing with foursomes the whole time. So, we’re hopeful that we can get back to four golfers per hole in the next couple of weeks.”

Phase two of Gov. Jay Inslee’s business reopening plan could relax the rules, but no date is set for the second phase to begin. The state is following a data-driven approach to reopening, meaning that when the number of COVID-19 cases declines consistently for a specific period of time, more normal activities can resume. 

In the meantime, River Ridge and the Elks will continue making the most of their limited reopening. One bright spot is beer.

“That’s definitely a positive,” Griffith said of the state’s decision to allow alcohol sales at golf courses a few days after the official reopening. “Knowing they can have a beer might give people a little incentive to come out.”