Row of carts

PLYMOUTH - Longtime golf fans are familiar with The Shark, World Golf Hall of Famer Greg Norman. Thanks to some ingenuity from Chad Hutsell and the staff at Swan Lake Golf Club, you may soon hear about the Shark Tank when the topic of golf comes up.

I doubt it, but I might make a phone call to find out what is involved with that process. I’m just trying to help people,” said Hutsell, the Director of Golf at Swan Lake, whose keen alteration to the golf carts there is allowing double riders even though that goes against the coronavirus protocol.

In early March, the Marshall County Health Department (MCHD) sent local golf courses a letter saying they could open. The only stipulation was that golfers had to walk because carts were not conducive to social distancing. Every local course opened under those circumstances except for Swan Lake. Recently, the MCHD said they would allow cart usage among courses, but only with a single rider causing a good news-bad news scenario.

Allowing single riders would have helped us, but when you are busy it limits you,” Hutsell said. “We have large numbers in our leagues and membership. We would have been handcuffed with just single riders, as almost every facility is right now. People are grateful to be open, but the single-rider thing is inconvenient. If you have only 50 carts, that’s 50 players. That could be two hours worth of tee times, you’re maxed out and now you have guys waiting.”

And thus begot Hutsell’s idea for the divider. 

“When we were thinking of opening originally, the health department said, ‘We support you wholeheartedly as long as you follow COVID-19 best practices, but we’re not going to allow golf carts, unless they are privately owned,’” he said. “I built a template for the divider then we proceeded to present this as an idea to them and they said, ‘We like the idea. If you can do that with all the carts, we’ll allow you to do this.’ It took three days to build the first 60.”

The divider is made out of clear vinyl and it divides the driver and passenger completely. It has several different attachment points with grommets in the vinyl, then zip-ties to make the attachments. It attaches to the cart at three places that are inconsequential to the structure of the cart. There is also a wood piece for additional attachment points. The cart dividers have drawn interest from other courses as well.

“I get at least two calls a day from all over asking about them,” continued Hutsell, who says that about 90 of his 120-cart fleet currently have them installed. “We’ve had calls from New York, New Jersey, Kentucky, all over. In my mind, I think this will be a short-lived situation, but you never know. There is a guy in the Grand Rapids area who can cut the vinyl pieces out quickly. He calls me “The Inventer.” He’s not in the golf business, but he makes about 100 a day. It’s not branded or anything. He’s trying to put a sales force together. I think he wants to go full-scale with it. We’re just trying to find a way to operate and expand our capacity. We are blessed with a lot of carts.”

And a lot of golfers.

“All the leagues we have are going to be in full operation as of Thursday,” Hutsell added. “Participation is 85-90 percent compared to last year, which is good. It’s logical that a handful of people will have reservations about playing and there are some ins and outs to every league every year. The only real change is we are operating with a prescheduled, prearranged tee time for each group - just a little more structured tee times. We’re trying to eliminate having a line at the tee box. Other than that, it’s business as usual. Groups can’t gather yet afterwards for food and beverage, but we’re getting close to that point.”

Other safety features being followed at the club include having temperatures checked upon arrival at the clubhouse and the staff wearing masks and gloves. For more information on tee times or to join a league, call (574) 935-5680 or go to the website swanlakeresort.com.

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