Inside a suspended Massachusetts club, where the golf waiting game continues

The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley Mass
The Orchards Golf Club in South Hadley Mass

Golf continues to reopen across America. Almost every state is in on the act.

Almost.

On Monday, Washington began filling its tee sheets. New Hampshire is set to resume May 13. That leaves just three states that have yet to open their golf courses or announce a date when they plan to do so: Maryland, Vermont and Massachusetts.

Golf has typically resumed with social-distancing changes that may at first seem foreign and awkward – no bunker rakes, no carts, raised cups – but nonetheless, thousands of players have eagerly returned to the game they love.

But in Massachusetts, they wait.

After the state enjoyed an early spring following a warm winter, the Orchards Golf Club, host of the 2004 U.S. Women’s Open in South Hadley, opened on March 8, its earliest opening day ever. Optimism, along with the Orchards’ orchids, bloomed.

It came to a halt on March 23, when Chris Tallman, the Orchards general manager, received word that the club would need to suspend operations. Time to hunker down and ride it out.

“It has been a surreal time since we closed the course down,” Tallman said. “No one is entirely certain what the next day, week or month will look like for golf in our state.”

Operations at the Orchards shifted quickly, like so many other courses around the country. There were furloughs, and the club also reallocated its remaining staff so that when golf does reopen, they’ll be ready.

Tallman has seen a lot in golf, but nothing like this. He competed on the South Hadley high school team and played college golf at the University of South Florida. He’s spent most of his life on a golf course. When he wasn’t competing or practicing, he worked on the grounds crew at a local track in his teen years.

Now that COVID-19 has arrived, he has returned to the tractor to help maintain his course. Orchards’ head pro, Keith Cunningham, also chips in with mowing and landscaping.

“It’s actually been really neat to see how everyone has banded together,” Tallman said. “Each of us has had to wear several hats during the shutdown and the passion our team has for this club has shone through. One positive is that without play, we’ve been able to put the course in top condition for when golf resumes.”

Club members have also stepped up: they started a fund to raise money for staff members who are furloughed or otherwise out of work. “The members here have been tremendous since I arrived and they have taken it to another level over the last month and a half,” Tallman added.

There have been no instances of golfers sneaking onto the Orchards during the down time, but no doubt its golfers, along with players across Massachusetts, Vermont and Maryland, await news on when they can play again. Tallman hasn’t teed up since Feb. 4, the longest drought he can recall. This past weekend, the Alliance of Mass Golf Organizations met with Governor Charlie Baker’s reopening advisory board to lobby to open courses. Recently, the state’s New England neighbors, including Connecticut, Rhode Island and Maine, have given golf the green light. At the Orchards, the waiting game continues.

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