Golfers determined to make most of whatever season they get
For all we've been through the last six months, it sure felt good to laugh again.
While talking to St. Charles East girls golf coach Jarod Gutesha about his sport returning to action Monday, an unintended consequence of the changing Illinois High School Association seasons came up.
Now a spring sport, are football players no longer the big men on campus? Is the quarterback not going to be the homecoming king?
"Now it's the golfer with the low handicap," joked Gutesha.
Of course, homecoming could become another addition to the cancel culture, added to the long list of what's been lost to the COVID-19 pandemic.
Gutesha is excited about the opportunity golf has, both to perhaps get more kids involved in the sport, and showing that high school sports can return safely.
"Let's be honest, there's a ton of people who have been doing lots of things but it hasn't been on the guidelines for public health," Gutesha said. "A lot of travel teams, they were doing things that weren't exactly as has now been stated. We're a public institution and we have to do it right and we are going to show everybody how to do it right. There's no exceptions to the safety of everyone."
The golf season started with practice Monday and runs until Oct. 24.
Meets can begin Thursday but schedules are still being finalized at many schools. With teams limited to playing either conference opponents or schools in the same COVID regions, invitationals are going to be smaller without the variety of opponents.
Fifty golfers including their coach are allowed, which also will limit the size of possible invites. For the 10-team Fox Valley Conference, schools have decided on a FVC bubble schedule of dual meets.
"It seems odd you couldn't do golf tournaments with social distancing but something is better than nothing," said Dundee-Crown boys coach Lance Huber. "Hopefully we have a good fall season which allows the kids to play winter sports. I am pumped to be back coaching again and around the kids. It's always great to see and talk to them."
In many ways, golf should be set up for a successful fall. Most of the players already have been back on the course this summer, learning the new norms that include no rakes in the bunkers, not touching the flag sticks and no post-round handshakes.
It helps that golf lends itself to social distancing, outdoors and spread out over several acres of land.
"If there's one sport, one activity that we can follow the guidelines put out, it's golf," Gutesha said. "Golf is the ultimate sport for us to go back and start what we think of as normal again.
"As far as staying safe I'm not concerned because I think we can do that with golf. I know the kids will be on board with it because they want to be back."
The safety precautions for golf also include players wearing a mask when they arrive to the course. They continue to wear them while they warm up with chipping and putting and the team meeting, then remove the masks on the first tee before putting them back on when they finish.
St. Charles East is also switching from the smaller mini-buses/vans that hold about 14 kids to the bigger yellow buses. Another option is to change their district policy that kids aren't allowed to ride with parents to the meets, which Glenbrook North and Wauconda, among others, are also considering.
Wauconda athletic director Mark Ribbens said the 25 boys who came to practice Monday nearly doubled last year's total. The girls program, in their second year as a program, has gone from six players to 14.
"It's great," Ribbens said. "Part of the information I put on social media is this is a time to make history, you can be a four-sport athlete as long as we can continue to stay within guidelines."
While the IHSA left open the possibility of a state tournament to end the season, most coaches aren't expecting it.
"That (state) is the ultimate goal always," Gutesha said. "If you told me five months ago we would just be allowed to practice and play teams within Kane and DuPage I would have thought you were crazy. Now I'm ecstatic if we get to do that."