Johnson City, TN

Driving Is All the Rave - Courses Shine Amid Covid

John M. Dabbs

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Woman teeing offAndrew Lomas/Unsplash

COVID-19 has not put a damper on outdoor sports, like golf. In the Tri-Cities area the courses and driving ranges have been alive during the pandemic. People have come out of the woodwork, dusting off their clubs to hit the range and links. They needed an outlet to remain sane. Many people regained their momentum and forgotten why they stopped playing.

RidgeView

Ridge View Driving Range off Bob Hayes Road in Jonesborough had fallen into a poor state. The once active range had fallen into disrepair and suffered form neglect. The next closest range is the Greenbriar in Johnson City near South Roan Street. Ridge View changed hands just before the pandemic hit. The new owner wanted to make upgrades, yet worked a full-time job. He was afraid this may have been a mistake.

Amid the mandates and new policies implemented like working from home, there were people who needed an outlet. Many of them chose to sneak out by themselves and self-isolate at their local driving range. Ridge View benefited from the increased attendance. A regular mowing schedule and additional markers made an improvement. It wasn't long before management was able to add an awning over the main driving range platform.

I met Rick, who was mowing and refilling the ball machine earlier this week. He tells me the place has really turned in to a gold-mine for his friend who owns the range. The improvements continue to draw people and they come back more often. Business has increased more than 100%.

The links

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Nearing the cupSoheb Zaidi/Unsplash

Driving ranges haven't been the only venues to thrive amid the pandemic. Golf courses have remained busy during the pandemic as well. The Tennessee weather patterns have continued to allow courses to operate through most of the year. Only a few really wet periods and snows put a damper on duffers locally.

Golfers can be see most any time during the day at Pine Oaks Golf Course along University Parkway in Johnson City. Other courses aren't as visible to the public, yet remain busy. Erratic hours at the Greenbriar range have many Johnson City and Jonesborough golfers practicing their swing at Ridge View.

Popular courses around the tri-cities area remain packed. Public courses like Elizabethton, Pine Oaks, Warriors Path, and Tri-Cities Golf Club continue to draw crowds. The numbers are even higher during warm weather. This week has been great for all outdoor sports enthusiasts.

Changing times

Times have changed drastically for public and private golf courses over the past few years. The thinning crowds and dwindling interest led to the city selling off Buffalo Valley Golf Course. Pine Oaks continues to draw a good crowd due to its location.

Many courses, both locally and around the nation, have seen fewer players lately. Before the pandemic, many courses were considering whether to change to frizbee/disc-golf or even foot-golf.

To die-hard enthusiasts, the sport is almost blasphemy. Many old-school duffers belief the sport should be kept to a civilized game. People should wear proper, conservative golf attire - no jeans or running shoes, no tee-shirts, and shirts should be tucked. Others believe tee-shirts and shorts are fine, and think comfort should win.

The generational shift is apparent. Personally, I fall closer to the mind-set of the old foagies, but I am closer to their age and no self-impression of being hip. Changing times require businesses to adapt to the times. It doesn't mean I have to like it. I miss some of the things that made things the "good-ole-days". Such is life.

Tips for the newly initiated

There are a few tips I should share with those just coming into their own and wanting to the try the sport. If you have nobody to help you along, here are a few tips:

  • Start at the driving range.
  • Practice just hitting the ball, it's not as easy as it looks - at least not for me.
  • Once you can hit the ball, then work on aiming.
  • Strive for consistency.
  • When practicing, do not worry about what other people think.
  • Notice others - they are concentrating on what they are doing and usually not watching you.
  • If you'd like advice, do not be afraid to ask someone.
  • Practice putting and all other clubs.
  • Do not be ashamed of taking your own putter and playing Putt-Putt to practice your short-game.
  • Hit the golf course with a friend and do not be afraid of how you'll perform.

It's easy to say "don't worry about how you look." It's the truth. Most people are not watching you, and you should not get discouraged if you play poorly. You are playing to improve your game and just have fun. Remember it's a sport you play alone. It can be fun if you keep the proper mindset and just enjoy being out there.

This is why so many people enjoy the game. It isn't about competition as much as enjoying the game. Play the game to enjoy it, not worry about the score. It's really only important when you're good enough to play for money - as in a tournament.

Resurgence

With the popularity of golf returning, it would be a good time to try it if you have ever thought about it. There are clinics and coaches to help you out. There are plenty of videos and simulations to help you out too. It's a lot of fun than can be started out with little expense. Pick up a set of cheap used clubs on e-bay, facebook marketplace, or a local pawn shop. They do not have to be state-of-the-art, any set of clubs close to the right size will work for you.

If you find yourself being finicky, you can always pick up an inexpensive new golf-bag and some wood-covers to snaz up your bag. Once you decide how you like it, you can always save up and look for a good deal on a nicer set if you want to upgrade. Look for golf-shoes at second-hand shops too. They are around, or you can find inexpensive pairs online.

The moral of the story - there are more people getting back out on the course. They forgot how much they love the game and have chosen to get on with life in a safe way, that is also socially distanced in a natural way.

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An outdoor enthusiast with a passion for travel and adventure. John is a professional consultant and photojournalist.

Johnson City, TN
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