Golfers flocking to course in record numbers amid pandemic

Author John Feinstein once referred to golf as “a good walk spoiled,” but for avid players, that whimsical description of the game couldn’t be further from the truth.

The onset of the COVID-19 pandemic in early April forced the closure of local golf courses for more than a month until county health guidelines were loosened.

Like most other courses, Northwood Golf Club in Monte Rio reopened in May with strict social distancing and health protocols in place, still a welcome result in the middle of a shelter-in-place order.  

 “When we reopened we had to restrict play to county residents only and allowed just one golfer per cart,” Northwood general manager Gaylord Schaap said. “Since then the guidelines have been eased so anyone can play the course and we’re now allowing two players per cart, providing they are members of the same household.”

Other guidelines that are currently in place require golfers to wear a mask at all times in the clubhouse, maintain at least six-foot distance while on the course, with no touching of the flagstick.

Local innovation

Northwood has been home to a new pop-up ball return device designed by local inventor Steve Conwell that allows golfers to retrieve their ball from the cup without actually touching anything. In essence the “Pop-it” device becomes the bottom of the cup and the flick of a lever sends it out of the hole for easy retrieval. Northwood is currently the only course in the world to use this innovative tool promoting better hygiene.     

“We’re finding that for the most part, golfers have been good about following the health protocols,” Schaap noted. “The biggest thing for people to be aware of is relaxing a little too much while you’re out having fun on the course and start high-fiving each other.”

Golf on the rise 

Northwood is typical of most golf courses across the county, experiencing an estimated 20% jump in the volume of golfers since the pandemic began.

“The increase in numbers has been great, but it’s also been a lot more work for the staff,” Schaap said. “It’s meant much more cleaning of carts and equipment on a regular basis.” 

Founded in 1928, Northwood is the only nine-hole course in the country designed by renowned designer Alister MacKenzie. Set in the middle of a Redwood forest and known for its narrow fairways, the par-36, 2,888-yard course rewards ball placement over sheer power off the tee.

As legend has it, comedian Bob Hope once commented that the course is “so narrow that golfers have to walk single-file down the fairway.”    

Green fees remain relatively low, with discounts for juniors and seniors. Lessons are available by contacting PGA Club Professional Vern Ayres.

Players are strongly encouraged to plan ahead and book tee times on the website at, or by calling the pro shop at (707) 865-1116. Northwood Golf Club is located at 19400 Ca-Highway 116 in Monte Rio.    

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