Mix of excitement, concern over reopening Manitoba golf courses and campgrounds

By | April 30, 2020

Geese are laying eggs, the grass is greening and people will soon be able to pitch a tent and hit the links at their leisure, though it won’t be the typical camping experience or round of golf.

On Wednesday, Manitoba Premier Brian Pallister announced a series of non-essential businesses will reopen on Monday, subject to a range of physical distancing rules and other conditions aimed at minimizing the spread of coronavirus.

Campgrounds, yurts and vacation cabin rentals will be open, but campers must bring their own toilet paper, sanitizer and other hygiene products, which won’t be provided on site.

Golf courses are able resume operations also, and that has Jeff Ward excited to dust off his clubs.

“Golf is one of the few activities that lends itself quite nicely to social distancing — especially if you play from the trees a lot,” Ward said, half-joking about shanking balls off the fairway.

Ward just capped off his first season as a member of Breezy Bend Country Club in Headingley. The course held a video conference with members last week explaining the things it would do to ensure everyone is safe.

Ward feels conflicted about some of the non-recreational reopenings, including restaurant patios and salons.

“I’ve been pretty outraged by a lot of the announcements today because it does feel like a lot of it is quite soon and that is a little bit scary,” he said.

“I can go play golf, I can go get a haircut, I can go get a meal and sit on a patio, but then later that night I can’t go see my mom or go to see family members or friends? There’s a really strange line that’s being drawn that I do not fully understand.”

Golf industry pleased

After a prolonged period of uncertainty, Harry Brotchie is happy golf courses will be opening soon.

“The golf industry is certainly pleased to see the decision,” said Brotchie, president of Lakeland Golf Management and vice-president of the National Golf Course Owners Association.

Brotchie and Lakeland run five courses in Manitoba — two in Winnipeg, and one each in the Gimli, Falcon Lake and Hecla areas.

Hecla won’t reopen by Monday, but others may be welcoming golfers soon depending on course conditions. Another variable will be how quickly staff can implement the new rules, said Brotchie.

Harry Brotchie, president of Lakeland Golf Management, said golf courses will be reviewing and implementing the rules before reopening. (Lyza Sale/CBC)

Among the restrictions announced Wednesday, golfers must be screened for COVID-19 symptoms when booking tee times, won’t be allowed to use water fountains and ball washers, and cannot remove the pin from the hole during play. As well, two people won’t be allowed to share a golf cart unless they are members of the same household.

The City of Winnipeg first learned the details of the province’s reopening plans Wednesday and has to review them before committing to reopening its public courses, said spokesperson David Driedger.

“We are not in a hurry to throw the doors wide open without taking the time to weigh the risks,” he said in a statement.

Excitement, questions over camping

As for campgrounds, Lisa Boyer is as eager to enjoy the outdoors as the rest who have been cooped up for the past two months.

Boyer shares camping information with the public through the Manitoba Camping Facebook page.

Lisa Boyer, left, enjoys camping in the summer but says she isn’t clear on how physical distancing will work at campsites full of families with kids. (Supplied by Lisa Boyer)

She said the details of how individual campsites will ensure people are spread out and avoiding communal gathering areas is unclear.

“It is kind of a little bit concerning because usually when you’re camping people are around a bonfire, partying or whatever. You’ve got to keep the social distancing at the top of our mind; I am concerned that might not happen.”

The executive director of the Manitoba Camping Association said she also has questions about how some of this will work. She’s  itching to be out in nature with her family and dog Brees.

“It’s just not knowing how much other people are going to respect what those rules are,” said Kim Scherger.

Kim Scherger’s dog Brees cosies up in a chair next to a campfire. (Supplied by Kim Scherger)

MCA represents 35 accredited overnight camps and three day camps that typically both involve groups of kids or families.

The new rules suggest no overnight camps are allowed at this time, although day camps are, so long as group sizes are capped at 16 and interactions between kids are kept to “brief exchanges.”

She wonders what “brief” and physical distancing mean in the context of a group of busy kids, and the provincial rules that remain in place limiting gathering sizes to 10.

“Day camps can have 16 people but can’t have gatherings of more than 10 people in a park, so let’s say a day camp of one group of kids go to a park where they’re not allowed to have gatherings of more than 10, then what?”

‘Crossing our fingers’

Kendra and Devin Imrie and their kids pose alongside one of the horses at the ranch. (Paul Epp)

Kendra and Devin Imrie run Falcon Beach Ranch in the Falcon Lake area, where people can rent one of three log cabins and go horseback riding along lakesides through the boreal forest.

“We’ve had no income to speak of since all this coronavirus lockdown began,” said Devin Imrie.

It’s still a delicate time, he said, and it’s also quieter than usual out in the woods. Normally the phones would be ringing a lot right now for bookings through May, June and into July.

One of three log cabins available to rent at Falcon Beach Ranch. (Emily Christie)

“That hasn’t happened yet, so we’re way behind for the summer already compared to where we would normally be,” Imrie said.

“We’re just kind of crossing our fingers that once the restrictions loosen up that people still have the will and financial means to come out.”

‘Confident they are doing the right thing’

Gimli Mayor Lynn Greenberg is also hopeful. Summer campers and tourists are a boon to his Lake Winnipeg community every summer.

“Hopefully it will pick up everybody’s spirits and help local businesses,” he said.

Viking Park in Gimli includes three gardens with indigenous plants, grasses and flowers. (Jeff Stapleton/CBC)

The rules don’t include details about physical distancing at beaches, but chief provincial public health officer Dr. Brent Roussin suggested those were omitted for the time being because it isn’t yet beach season.

Time will tell whether the timing of this first phase of relaxing rules leads to any changes in Manitoba’s COVID-19 caseload.

For now, Greenberg trusts the powers that be.

“They obviously spent a lot of time studying this and making the decision and I am quite confident they are doing the right thing.”

WATCH | Premier discusses importance of physical distancing while camping:

As of May 4, a variety of non-essential businesses will have the option of reopening under strict guidelines including outdoor recreation and campgrounds. 1:00

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