Jimmy Mauro, the general manager of the South Wales Golf Course in Jeffersonton, has no experience as a hospital administrator. But after the rigors of trying to maintain a safe and “squeaky-clean” clubhouse and golf course during the COVID-19 crisis, he might have some relevant qualifications.
From early morning until the gates close at sunset, Mauro and his staff are cleaning, disinfecting and making sure his customers practice social distancing. Mauro is doing repeat duty at South Wales. He was the head pro back in the 1990s and a former member of the PGA. He is also a retired federal police officer.
“We are seeing a lot of players from around the region playing here since many courses are closed. I’m getting players from Northern Virginia, Maryland, and, of course, our loyal tri-county golfers,” said Mauro. “It’s gratifying.”
The governor has allowed Virginia golf courses to remain open. A typical course is up to 200 acres and groups of four or fewer are generally 150 yards or more away from each other.
Tommy Thompson owns the golf course. A third-generation home builder, his grandfather was a carpenter, and his father Ken was a professional builder as well.
Upon graduating high school, Thompson picked up a hammer and never looked back. Today, he owns Benchmark Homes, headquartered in Richmond. When asked how he is keeping the course operating, he said, “If it wasn’t for my staff, we wouldn’t be there. They are a very dedicated crew committed to serving the public.
“I do everything from afar since I live in Richmond. I talk to Jimmy two and three times a day to assess the situation. It’s not only Jimmy and the clubhouse employees, but our course superintendent, Johnny Smith, and his guys who are keeping the course looking great. It’s a total team effort,” Thompson said.
What’s different today from six weeks ago? Almost everything except the players’ handicaps. The changes start as you walk up the steps to the clubhouse.
A table outside the clubhouse displays the COVID-19-inspired course rules. “We permit only one golfer at a time inside the clubhouse and in the restrooms. But that’s only the beginning of our COVID protocols. We sanitize each credit card and pen every time they are touched,” said Mauro.
The club serves no hot food. Only packaged candy, crackers, chips, soft drinks and beer are available.
“All range balls are disinfected with Clorox and Dawn detergent after use,” Mauro said. “There are no water coolers on the course because we do not want players touching them. Ball washers have also been removed. I even sanitize the handrails as you walk up the steps to the pro shop," he added.
One change most players readily embrace is 6-inch sections of swimmer’s noodles that are placed in every hole on the greens. The blue foam inserts block putts from dropping into the hole, so if the ball just grazes the foam, it’s in. The flag pin is never touched.
When carts are returned after a round, everything a player touches is sanitized, including the floorboards.
Mauro said, “We intend to do everything we need to do to stay open. We are adhering to all state and federal guidelines for golf courses. All of these actions are for the health and safety of our guests. I also need to protect my employees too.”
When carts are available, it’s one player per cart. But due to the high volume of players, all the carts may be in play by mid-day, especially on weekends. In those situations, a player can walk or elect to ride with another player. “I had 118 players last Sunday and only 34 carts, so it’s obvious, on occasion, we can’t always assign a cart to a single player,” Mauro said.
“The public is suffering from cabin fever. Almost everyone coming here thanks us for keeping the course open. Over 300 players a week are enjoying golfing in some of the nicest spring weather in years.”
Mauro said his rates are as competitive as most courses in the region. Weekday rates with a cart are $39; $44 on weekends. Seniors, law enforcement personal, veterans, first responders, women and juniors pay $35 and $40.
Mauro said that compliments on the course conditions have been numerous. “It’s the best shape it’s been in in years,” he said.
Indeed, it’s not hard to find players eager to share their take on the course and its conditions.
Ron Philips, a retired U.S. Army command sergeant major, lives in Haymarket. “I golfed the last three weeks here and have found everyone well-trained in the disinfection process. Jimmy is down-to-earth and takes care of your needs. The course is in good shape. It’s the only one I’m going to play until this thing clears up,” he said.
Ron Rosson lives in Richardsville, Virginia, and is an off-from-work machinist. He said, “The course has come back from a few years ago. It’s very playable today. The more you play it, the easier it becomes. The course staff is doing an excellent job."
Jason Kidwell is the owner of Explore Kitchens and lives in Mclean. “My good friend went to Langley High School with me and now lives in Sperryville, so this is his home course. I’m out here because they have closed most of the Fairfax County park golf courses. Once a week, I come out here to play with my buddy. South Wales is absolutely fantastic and has fast greens. It has one of the nicest staff I've encountered at any of the courses I’ve played,” he said.
South Wales’ general manager sums up his goal in staying open, “We want golfers to come out and get away from this terrible virus. We want them to relax for four or five hours and have a good time.”