Coronavirus quickly turned the world upside down with all nonessential business operations forced to shut down to some degree.

A precedent was set early on where golf was grouped with outdoor recreation and deemed essential in most locations. Golf is a non-contact sport where social distancing is attainable without disrupting the overall experience.

The reconstructed golf management team entered March primed for a successful season when we first began hearing about coronavirus approaching our area. Cases started to spike in major metropolitan areas across Tennessee and the threat to Tellico Village soon become a reality. We monitored the impact of coronavirus in areas of the country where the virus was first identified so we could begin to prepare. There was no pandemic playbook to follow, so we had to make adjustments quickly.

First and foremost, we needed to develop an in-depth understanding of everything related to COVID-19. How does it spread? How can we best protect our staff, members and guests? What are our legal responsibilities? We had far more questions than answers. Things were changing quickly and we needed to adapt quickly, but also needed more understanding to make adjustments effectively.

We were trying to filter through the 24-hour news cycle and began attending daily webinars to gain additional understanding. We gathered data from nearly every major golf association to accelerate our understanding. We watched webinars hosted by the PGA, GCSAA, NGCOA, USGA, as well as other smaller, niche associations. The first piece of the puzzle we needed to better understand was how we are actually governed and how to find that data. We learned that local regulations trump state, and state regulations trump national. Ultimately, we had to figure out what the local policies were, which proved to be a moving target.

We learned that there are 95 counties in Tennessee, six of which are the large metropolitan areas across the state that have their own health departments. Tellico Village fell into the other group that consists of the smaller 89 counties without their own health department and are therefore governed by the state.

The second half of March proved a whirlwind when things began changing daily. The information out of Knoxville was detailed and timely but only served as a possible indicator for what might come for Tellico Village. New executive orders from the state were coming out daily and usually difficult to understand. The executive orders were typically coming out at the end of the day, which added to the complications. We spent considerable time networking with other golf operations across the state in an effort to better understand the impact of these orders on golf so we could comply. We soon learned that we were some of the industry leaders for best adjusting our processes and procedures, and, in turn, a large part of the industry started to turn to us for advice.

Our team adapted quickly and our policies and procedures became a standard for our area. We received calls from the Tennessee Golf Association regarding our procedures. We shared all our materials with the head of the Knoxville Golf Foundation for distribution. The entire golf team fully embraced the whatever-it-takes mindset to keep golf a safe haven in Tellico Village. We thought we might have to shut down at some point but were going to do whatever it takes to stay operational for as long as possible. Golf was one of the few avenues available to safely get out and enjoy the great outdoors and the beauty of Tellico Village.

Once April arrived, we were settled into our new normal of electronic check-in, single-rider disinfected golf carts and the removal of all nonessential touch points from golf carts and courses. The USGA rules of golf were amended in 2019 to allow you to keep the flagstick, which was a timely change. We found that we could simply turn our cups upside down and easily retrieve the golf ball without touching anything. The upside-down cups have been an effective, temporary solution as we work to get new items to accommodate this concept. We have new, more receptive flagsticks on order and will be adding a cup-saver to the bottom for an even more effective means of accomplishing the no-contact goal. We have left other nonessential items off the course as well.

We more than survived March, as rounds were up 1,156 over 2019 and 870 over budget. April brought great numbers as well, with golf rounds up 1,276 over the prior year and 745 ahead of budget. May was a huge month, with rounds up 1,577 over last year and 1,253 ahead of budget. We fully transitioned to phase 2 COVID-19 golf operations June 1, which brought back more opportunities for golf. Mother Nature has gifted us with some spectacular weather and golf is indeed booming in Tellico Village. June is shaping up to be an incredible month with record rounds of golf and retail sales.

The ongoing commitment of our team never ceases to amaze me. The entire golf staff has quickly adapted to ever-changing policies and procedures. The electronic check-in process hopefully appeared seamless but was challenging to execute. Routine disinfecting of all touch points, including golf carts, is our new normal and we continue to get better with our sanitation processes and procedures. The team did an incredible job fabricating screens for the golf retail counters and cart dividers. We saved more than $8,000 by making our own cart dividers in-house that helped golfers grow re-accustomed to riding together. While solo carts are still available for a modest surcharge, that restriction was the limiting factor to the operation. We are now able to operate the golf course at full capacity and better accommodate tee time requests.

Golf is extremely healthy in Tellico Village and in a great position for the future. The primary reason is the ongoing support of the golf community and unwavering commitment of the staff. While we are not totally out of the woods with coronavirus, we now have a playbook for how to best manage should circumstances take a turn for the worse. We will continue to take things one day at a time while we strive to provide the best golf experience possible.

Chris Sykes is the Tellico Village golf director.