No-shows preventing some from playing with tee times unused; 2 Rockford courses open late because of worker shortage

Rockford golf courses were full last weekend— or as full as they can be under the state’s COVID-19 restrictions that include only two golfers per group, 15 minutes between tee times and everything booked online.

Courses were too full for many Rockford Park District season pass holders.

Steve Vee, a two-time City Senior champion, is playing three times this week but sat out Friday, Saturday and Sunday because he couldn’t find a tee time at Elliot, Aldeen or Sinnissippi when the courses finally opened six weeks after their originally scheduled date.

And Sandy Hollow and Ingersoll — two of the city’s three 18-hole courses that don’t add a $13 surcharge for most pass holders — were still closed.

"They opened two and a half courses out of four and a half, and then they extend the times to 15 minutes between groups and make it a twosome, so they can only put a fourth as many people on half the courses," Vee said. "You have pent up demand against one-seventh of your courses being open. That’s not going to work."

All three Winnebago County Forest Preserve courses — Macktown, Ledges and Atwood — opened Friday and were booked solid all three days. The same was true in Rockford, where even privately owned Newburg Village had no tee times Sunday. "It was wall-to-wall people," said David Spencer, the Rockford Park District’s operations director for golf.

Spencer said recent cutbacks meant Rockford needed more time to open its last two courses.

"Because of the restrictions and loss of golf in April, we were not able to bring back any of our seasonal workers," Spencer said. "We had to reschedule other park district employees who don’t typically work in golf and train them on new systems. We’re trying to get by without any seasonal staff right now. You can imagine: seven days a week, 13 hours a day, trying to get staff with additional safety restrictions. That made us stagger this opening.

"We’re hoping the restrictions are lifted so we can start getting foursomes, start getting volume. Once we get some restrictions lifted, it will help us make decisions."

Many golfers think the two restrictions that reduce play — doubling the time between tee times and cutting groups from four to two — aren’t necessary.

"Changing tee times to 15 minutes doesn’t do anything. Even if you are waiting for people, you are waiting in the fairway," said Bruce Krandel, who played twice at Sinnissippi over the weekend.

"I go to the grocery store. I go to Farm and Fleet. I hand my credit card to people. They put my stuff in a bag. Why would that be any different than a driving range? I wrote an email to (Gov. JB) Pritzker three weeks ago, telling him to open the courses. There were only 17 states that shut their golf courses. Even New York had them open."

Lowell Parrish, a Rockford pass holder who went to Atwood over the weekend because he couldn’t get a tee time in Rockford, said he didn’t come within 100 yards of another golfer.

"The only time you’d see anyone is you were going down a parallel fairway, with you going one way and they are going the other," Parrish said. "You see two people here and two people way over there. I know what the reasons are, but they don’t make any sense whatsoever."

The courses look like they will stay busy. Aldeen, Rockford’s championship course, has a lot of openings — "People don’t think they are ready for Aldeen, especially with driving ranges being closesd," Krandel said — but Elliot and Sandy Hollow are booked solid all week until late in the afternoon. As of 10 a.m. Monday on, Elliot has no tee times open before 6 p.m. until 4:30 Thursday and 3:30 Friday. Sandy Hollow has no tee times before 6:45 until 4:45 Friday.

Spencer just hopes all those tee times will be filled. With courses being able to only schedule eight golfers per hour, instead of the normal 32, they can’t afford no-shows.

"We are having some problems with people booking their tee times and not showing up. It’s crazy," Spencer said. "We had two cancellations back-to-back at Sinnissippi this weekend and no one was on 1, 2, 3 or 4 before there was a twosome halfway down the fairway on 5. It’s tripping us up. We’ve got to get people to keep their tee times."

Matt Trowbridge:; @matttrowbridge