AURORA | Craig Rogers is playing more golf than he has in years, even in the midst of the coronavirus pandemic, and he’s glad he’ll be able to coach it again in a short time.
The multiple state championship-winning Regis Jesuit golf coach feels fortunate that the game he has loved since high school has been one of the least-affected since the arrival of COVID-19 and has seen a swell in popularity of late.
Unlike the coaches of the other fall prep sports in Colorado, Rogers is able to plan for the start of practice, which comes Aug. 3. Colorado High School Activities Association Commissioner Rhonda Blanford-Green said in an interview with 9NEWS Thursday that the organization has told schools it is “ready to go” for golf.
“It’s so awesome to know that we’ll get to play,” Rogers told the Sentinel Friday.
Very few things have been certain during the pandemic, but golf has been one of the closest things. Many courses closed quickly during early stay-at-home orders (such as Aurora courses, which closed March 20) and remained closed for several weeks before reopening, in some cases at the beginning of May.
Now, there are multiple senior and junior tournaments going on and it is difficult to find a tee time to a play a game that allows participants natural social distancing both at the tee box, on the course and on the putting green and allows for several hours out on courses often replete with wildlife and Colorado scenery.
Golf was one of a small number of sports deemed low risk in terms of potential virus transmission according to the National Federation of High School Athletics (NFHS) and is an easy choice to contest because of its built-in advantages. It is the only high school sport that doesn’t take place regularly on any school campus.
CHSAA Associate Commissioner Tom Robinson — who oversees boys and girls golf for the state’s governing body — is very happy that at minimum, one fall sport in Colorado will be contested as usual.
“Golf in general has been happening since the beginning of June and in some cases even earlier than that, just because it allows you to social distance and with small numbers,” Robinson told the Sentinel. “There’s really no reason not to be able to play the game and get a champion. It’s going to happen.”
Rogers said the temperature checks and health questions other sports currently employ will also be used — so any athletes who exhibit symptoms of illness can be sent home — and players will have to carry their own individual waters instead of getting it from shared containers out on the course.
Carts aren’t used in high school golf and Robinson said CHSAA’s move to completely online scorecards — utilizing the iwanamaker software — also eliminates the need for players to come together to report scores at the end of tournaments as they did in the past.
CHSAA is having a summit with athletic directors next week when it will give out information on regionals — which are decided by order of finish in league play — and the state tournament. The boys golf season will maintain its traditional calendar with practice and a significant amount of competition taking place before school begins, in person or via remote learning depending on the district.
Robinson said when it comes to the bigger tournaments that he has kept an eye on how junior golf tournaments this summer have handled large fields. Assigning tee times in advance and asking players to arrive at the course 30 minutes before their round is scheduled to begin can help thin out the numbers of people in one place.
As much as Rogers is glad for the play itself, he thinks it is more important for his athletes to be outside and be active, especially in this time. He has also gotten out on the course several times a week — more than he has since his high school days — and he knows it has helped him.
“More than ever, we worry about the stress level and anxiety level of our kids,” he said. “I think you can make a pretty strong case that golf is beneficial in terms of mental health and wellness for those that play. It’s all the more reason to give kids something that takes them out of that cruddy place they’ve been in because of all this and the isolation.
“To be outside in the fresh air and play some golf is good for the soul.”
Added Robinson: “Golf is their mental refuge in some cases. It’s just enjoyable to get out and compete, so it really is good to see. That’s why you want to make something happen.”
CHSAA itself has taken a lot of heat over social media over the summer for its more measured, deliberate movement towards making a decision on the fall, which is in stark contrast to some other states across the country.
Rogers is very appreciative of the efforts of Blanford-Green, Robinson and the organization in its attempts to bring back sports safely.
“They are trying so hard to get kids back in competition,” Rogers said of CHSAA. “They love sports and they believe in the value of sports. They hear it from kids and parents that they are dying to play, but their hands are tied a little bit and there’s only so much they can do. I think they’ve been tremendous in trying to communicate with athletic directors how hard they are trying, but there is still a lot of mystery about what will happen.”
Robinson said the organization has heard strong voices on both sides of the argument against going ahead with sports or postponing them, but the majority has been positive and understanding of CHSAA’s complex position.
“For the most part, our people and our community have been good to us,” Robinson said.
Girls golf in the spring will also undergo some changes for the better in Robinson’s opinion.
A calendar conflict between regional tournaments, the offering of Advanced Placement and International Baccalaureate testing and graduations has long plagued girls golfers — with Colorado’s unpredictable weather thrown in as a wild card — but a shift in dates should help alleviate some of that.
Regionals have been moved to the last week of May, with the state tournament now scheduled to be contested June 1-2.
Courtney Oakes is Sentinel Colorado Sports Editor. Reach him at 303-750-7555 or [email protected] Twitter: @aurorasports. IG: Sentinel Prep Sports