Hilly Haven adjusting during COVID-19 pandemic
By Rich Palzewic
DE PERE – With a few changes, it’s business as usual at Hilly Haven Golf Course in De Pere.
Due to the risk of spreading COVID-19, local courses have changed the way they operate.
“It’s been a trying time, but I’m grateful we are open and can give people an outlet to get outside, exercise and enjoy the game of golf,” said Hilly Haven general manager Kristin Stelzer. “We’ve gone through several changes to do our part in fighting the spread of the virus. We want people to feel comfortable when they come to the course. We’ve had to roll with the changes.”
Stelzer said the course was forced to close March 17 and officially opened April 24.
“Our course drains well, so as soon as we can open, we do,” she said. “Some years it’s in March, but typically it’s early April. It’s never a definite date – we are at the mercy of Mother Nature. This year, we were ready to open, the course was in great shape and the weather was cooperating, but we couldn’t because of COVID.”
When the course opened, Stelzer said it got busy almost immediately.
“We were told April 17 we could open a week later,” she said. “I’ve never heard the phone ring so much. People were calling for a tee time on the 24th, not caring what the weather might be like. It was quiet on the 16th with phone calls, and then we got a big surge the next day.”
Ironically, Chad Schmidt recorded a hole-in-one opening day.
“He’s one of our loyal-member customers, but we thought he was kidding,” Stelzer said. “It was a nice way to open the course.”
Despite not having any mandated regulations by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), Stelzer said Hilly Haven has been following all of the recommendations to ensure a safe experience.
“People had been in our business before us closing on St. Patrick’s Day, so we did a thorough cleaning before opening,” she said. “For safety, we are supplying masks to our employees and encouraging them to wear it. We are also taking their temperature upon arrival to make sure they are healthy, and we have signs posted around saying to not enter if you have any symptoms of COVID-19.”
Within the clubhouse, there are signs posted to keep people 6 feet apart for social distancing purposes.
“We have our tee times 10 minutes apart to help with congestion,” said Stelzer, who has been the general manager at Hilly Haven since 2005. “Normally, we have 8 minutes between tee times, so we’re not quite as busy as normal. We’re doing single-rider carts unless there is a group of golfers from the same household. We encourage people to walk, and interesting enough, we’ve seen an increase in the number of people walking during the pandemic.”
She said each cart is sprayed with a solution, and it sits for 2 minutes before being power washed.
“I hope people aren’t nervous about that,” Stelzer said. “We have upped our cleaning and sanitizing of the whole facility. We have hand-sanitizing stations set up for customers upon arrival and departure. I’ve had a few people who are more vulnerable tell me they are staying home until this is over – and I respect that – but I feel we are doing our absolute best to keep people safe.”
Additionally, she said there are no benches or ball-washers on the course, and the pins have been modified.
“We turned our cups upside down, so you don’t need to take the flagstick out,” Stelzer said. “When the ball goes into the hole, it drops slightly where you can reach in and get it without taking the flag out. We’ve had to get creative – it’s different from how we’ve done things in the past.”
On May 21, the CDC released a study stating the virus is spreading easily between people but isn’t spread as easily as first thought by touching contaminated objects or surfaces.
Stelzer said she’s received emails from golfers thanking her for what Hilly Haven has done to keep people safe.
As Mother Nature dictates, she said the course is busy on nice days.
“People feel safer in an outdoor setting, and that’s wonderful,” she said. “We are happy to provide a safe environment for people.”
Hilly Haven is offering a limited food menu with curbside pick-up daily from 11 a.m. to 7 p.m.
In addition, Stelzer said the outdoor patio was recently opened for people to eat.
“It’ll be an interesting year,” she said. “Lots of events have been canceled or postponed to the fall. It’s sad because we have lots of events yearly at our course as fundraisers. I hope there’s still a way for these organizations to hold their event virtually.”
For more information or to book a tee time, visit hillyhaven.com.