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Rochester golf course sees delayed season start with silver lining

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ROCHESTER, Minn. (KTTC) -- It's been nearly a week since golfers were given the "go-ahead" to return to the green for the season.

Friday's sunshine brought a crowd both young and old to Willow Creek Golf Course -- but according to the course's new owners, it's been a whirlwind to get here.

Hunter Rommes swings off the tee at Willow Creek Golf Course. Rommes says it's his second time out golfing since restrictions were lifted last week.

"It's been wonderful," PGA Professional and Willow Creek Co-Owner Will Langcaster said. ."You've seen it from so many people, the excitement to get out and get outside and get golfing."

Just last week, golfers were only dreaming of hitting the links. Langcaster and his business partner and fellow PGA Professional, Andy Black were dreaming and hoping for a return to golf, too. After signing paperwork in January, officially claiming Willow Creek as their own, the pair have been busy, gearing up for an early start to the season. Little did they know the roadblock that COVID-19 would bring them come March.

"Of the things that you might have imagined causing a problem before opening for your first season, this is not one of them," Langcaster said with a laugh. "But, it can only get better!"

"You plan about what could go good and what could go bad -- and you don't think of a pandemic," Black said. "So, we kind of had to improvise."

And improvise they did; in the midst of the slow down, Black and Langcaster took the down time to get renovations on the course done.

At this time, golfers aren't allowed to touch golf flags; to help manage that, Willow Creek has made less shallow holes, which is meant to prevent people from reaching down into the hole to retrieve their ball. 

"We had plans of trying to get open in that middle of March time...," Langcaster said. "It wasn't meant to be, but we're open now!"

Golfers on the course agree.

"It just feels like finally! We've been waiting for so long," golfer Hunter Rommes said.

Chomping at the bit, once news hit that Gov. Tim Walz allowed for golf courses to open, Willow Creek was one of the first in Rochester to get golfers back on the fairway.

"When we got the green light on Friday, we said noon Saturday, let's do it," Langcaster said. "We opened and there was snow on the ground. We didn't allow cart riding that weekend, so it was walking only and it was as busy as we ever could have imagined."

With everything else going on in the world -- the return of golf was even sweeter. Perhaps with its delayed opening, a blessing in disguise.

"Since we've been open, our expectations have been exceeded," Black said.

Golfers young and old hit the links at Willow Creek Golf Course Friday afternoon.

"With everything shut down, closed down, it's something to do," Rommes said.

Black and Langcaster agree; the grand re-opening of Willow Creek was even better than anticipated.

"I think its a great way to be safe outdoors," Black said. "Its very easy to be socially distant and people just want to get out and do something. I think this is the perfect place to do it."

Course managers say they're abiding with social distancing guidelines, like only sharing carts with people from the same household, encouraging golfers to sign up and pay for a tee time online ahead of time and limiting access to the club house.

Beret Leone

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