The first steps on Alberta's path to economic relaunch

Alberta took its first strides toward the large-scale resumption of public life under COVID-19 this weekend as provincial parks and golf courses opened under the government's phased economic relaunch. 

Alberta golf courses among first businesses to reopen during pandemic

A staff member at The Ranch Golf and Country Club explains the new public health guidelines to a group of golfers on Saturday, the first day courses were permitted to open under Alberta's phased economic relaunch plan. (Art Raham/CBC)

Alberta took its first strides toward the large-scale resumption of public life under COVID-19 this weekend as provincial parks and golf courses opened under the government's phased economic relaunch. 

Tee times sold out in 13 minutes at The Ranch Golf and Country Club. The course says its online booking system crashed from the wave of eager Edmonton golfers longing for a chance to hit the fairways on Saturday.

Alberta began to ease some public health restrictions on Friday, with provincial parks and boat launches reopening with limited services. Dogs were allowed to run free in 38 Edmonton off-leash areas on Saturday after the city reverted some pandemic-related restrictions. 

Golf courses are among the first businesses to reopen during COVID-19 pandemic. The industry has been lobbying the government for weeks to earn the distinction, arguing the sport is predisposed to physical distancing.

On Thursday, golf proprietors received the unexpected news from Premier Jason Kenney that they would be able to open as early as Saturday, leaving some scrambling to prepare the courses. Several say they expected the restrictions to remain in place until mid-May at the earliest.  

The Ranch golf club was inundated with hundreds — if not thousands — of calls in the wake of the announcement, says general manager and head professional Murray McCourt. 

He called the crash of the online system a "train wreck" but noted the course had run "incredibly smooth" on Saturday.

"We were prepared and ready and had a lot of protocols in place," he said. 

From the moment golfers arrive at the gate, The Ranch staff provide them with an information leaflet and a rundown of the new public health guidelines, developed by the province in consultation with industry advocates and released late Friday afternoon— just hours before the first golfers teed off.

Under the guidelines, only one golfer is allowed per cart unless they are from the same household. Shared touch surfaces, such as sand rakes and ball washers, have been removed from the course. Cups have been raised to make it easier to retrieve the ball and prevent people from removing the flag stick. Courses are encouraged to only book tee times and accept payment online. 

"It's been fabulous. The course is in excellent shape," said golfer Wes Patterson.

About 250 people played the course on Saturday, McCourt said, down from 350 during a busy day last year. 

Dog parks and drive-thrus

In other parts of Edmonton, Saturday brought other signs of a re-emergent social lives. 

Ryan Ewashko brought his two dogs to an off-leash area in Terwillegar, one of 38 across Edmonton. The city made those parks on-leash at the outset of the pandemic in an effort to prevent any violations of physical distancing measures. But on Friday, the city announced the pooches could once again be set loose in those areas starting Saturday. 

"It's pretty awesome because my dogs could never get enough exercise," Ewashko said.  

The four fenced off-leash parks in the city will remain closed for the time being as Edmonton plans its relaunch strategy. 

A debit machine strapped to a hockey stick was a pandemic precaution taken by the Smokehouse BBQ food truck to ensure physical distancing. (Art Raham/CBC)

Some businesses are also finding creative ways to keep their operations running until the first full stage of the provincial relaunch, expected to begin on May 14 with the opening of some services, including retail stores, restaurants and museums. 

Sherry Sept, owner of Smokehouse BBQ restaurant in west Edmonton, organized a drive-thru food truck pop-up in the parking lot outside the storefront on Saturday. She strapped a debit machine to a hockey stick to ensure physical distancing measures were respected as customers picked up their smoked meat dishes. 

"The turnout is perfect. We're getting little bursts of customers," she said. 

Sept said another pop-up is scheduled with eight food trucks at Southgate Mall next weekend, with hopes of bringing the idea to other corners of the city in the weeks to come as trucks weather the cancellation of the lucrative summer festival season. 

"Just to get people out and until it's safe for them to come to the restaurant," she said.

With files from Kashmala Fida