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The Great Escape: The Oaks Golf Course provides safe haven amid COVID-19 pandemic
The Oaks
The Oaks Golf Course clubhouse.

COVINGTON, Ga. — The world is in a peculiar place right now.

In the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, it ofttimes feels new information is being produced by the minute rather than by the day or hour. Proactive changes are being implemented as preventative measures, but the fear of the unknown — the anxiety that comes from a crisis with no discernible expiration date — continues to persist.

The novel virus has also brought the sports world to an abrupt halt.

GHSA spring sports remain in limbo, as do the NBA, MLS, NHL and MLB seasons. The Masters Tournament has been postponed to a later date. The NCAA has cancelled all remaining winter and spring championships, leading to the Atlantic Coast Conference and Southeastern Conference cancelling their respective spring sports for the remainder of the calendar year.

The moves are justified. At a time when the safety of individuals in this country and across the globe is top priority, these sports leagues should be applauded for their ability to keep the bigger picture in focus. And yet, as people continue to be inundated with dread, the absence of a temporary escape from reality through athletics is more unsettling than ever before.

The Oaks Golf Course wants to fill that void for the people of Covington.

When recommendations on the appropriate response to COVID-19 were first issued, Nancy Schulz, owner of The Oaks, immediately met with her staff to discuss the best way to handle the situation. Her mind glossed over the state of her business as she understood that her first duty above all else was to “protect the public.”

“We want to do our part to make sure we flatten the curve,” she said.

The Oaks made the decision to remain open for the time being, but only if precautionary measures were taken to heed the recommendations of Gov. Brian Kemp and the Center for Disease Control (CDC)

Management began distributing bottles of hand sanitizer throughout the facility. Tables have been spaced six feet apart from each other to promote social distancing. Employees have been instructed to wipe down all equipment continuously throughout the day in an effort to keep customers — and themselves — out of harm’s way.

They’re also releasing a new mobile app on March 24 that will allow people to book their tee time and check in from their phones to limit interactions inside the facilities.

The Oaks Sanitation
Bottles of hand sanitizer and signage promoting public health are littered throughout the facilities at The Oaks in response to the novel virus. - photo by Mason Wittner
Nancy and her husband, Dick Schulz, Director of Golf Operations at The Oaks, believe their establishment can be a safe haven for people during this pandemic. While the world continues to be proactive in the battle against COVID-19, The Oaks is playing a vital role by following safety recommendations while simultaneously affording customers a much-needed escape from reality — if only for a few hours.

“Golf is naturally a social distancing sport because you don’t play in groups of more than two to four people at a time. We space people out by tee time, so they’re naturally spaced about 400 yards apart,” Nancy Schulz said. “We need to continue to boost our immunity, so that means exercise, fresh air, having a way that you can have an escape from all this. This is a great place to do all that in a safe environment.”

The Oaks’ members and customers have expressed their appreciation for having a safe place to go during these trying times.

Antoine Dunams began playing at The Oaks in early February. Having known about the course for years, he’s only recently had the opportunity to get out and use it several times a week since retiring. He played the course once again Wednesday morning and says he plans to continue coming back to golf until he’s told he can’t.

“If I had to sit in the house for the next 14 to 21 days, I would probably go absolutely stir crazy,” Dunams said. “In addition, I love the great outdoors. And as far as social distancing goes, is there a better place than being out on a golf course? I can get out, get some exercise and retain my sanity.”

Antoine Dunams
Antoine Dunams (pictured) is grateful to The Oaks for giving him an opportunity to get out of the house and exercise while also practicing social distancing. - photo by Mason Wittner
Fellow Covington resident Braeden Berry shared similar feelings about the role the game of golf is playing in his life in the midst of the global crisis.

“Golf has always been an escape for me with whatever I have going on in my life, and this time is nothing different,” Berry said. “The calm serenity of the golf course, where the only thing that’s on your mind is golf, takes you away from the negative of the world and the chaos of the pandemic.”

This isn’t the first time The Oaks has served as a beacon of hope in a darkened world.

On the morning of Sept. 11, 2001, Nancy Schulz stood with her eyes glued to a television in the back corner of the facility. She recalls watching the news about the tragic events that unfolded at the World Trade Center, and remembers the humbling response she received from those who were at her establishment.

“When the Twin Towers fell, we had people out on the golf course and they felt like this was a safe haven,” she said. “And even that entire week, they still came here because they felt like with all the craziness that was going on, the golf course was a safe place and a place where they could still feel some normalcy.”

Nancy and Dick Schulz hope they can provide the people of Covington with a shelter once again.

It remains to be seen how long the COVID-19 pandemic will last. With each passing day, the longing for a return to our normal lives — for just a tase of the way things were before the novel virus began spreading — grows exponentially. There may be no way to fully escape the reality of what we’re facing, but that doesn’t mean we can’t find solace in an escape.

Even if it’s only temporary.

“I think Americans are used to fighting a challenge, so to speak, or not letting things like this get to them. So we’ll figure out a way to get it done,” Dick Schulz said. “And this is a good place to come. We love seeing the people, so come on.”