It was re-opening day at area driving ranges. Garrison Golf Center in Haverhill was among the three area ranges to open on Monday.
Photo by Bill Burt
The driving range at Sarkisian Farms was pretty busy as ranges officially re-opened on Monday.
Photo by Bill Burt
Whirlaway Golf opened its driving range last week after being closed the rest of the spring, losiong two months of business. Here several golfers use the grass tees which are offered as well as the mats. The Kazanjian family has owned the range, golf shop and running center since 1931.
In Massachusetts was it a crime to hit a bucket of balls — until last week.
The latest phase of Gov. Charlie Baker’s reopening plan began last week, and driving ranges were added to the list of businesses, which include restaurants (outdoor only), day-care centers, retail stores, nail salons, and others now operating with restrictions.
Driving range properties, most family-owned, have been struggling as they waited weeks after golf courses opened to do the same.
The Merrimack Valley has three family-owned driving ranges — Sarkisian Farms in Andover, Whiralway in Methuen and Garrison Golf Center in Haverhill.
Garrison has a driving range and nine-hole executive course owned for 51 years by the Murphy family.
“It was tough because the phone has been ringing off the hook and we didn’t know what to say,” co-owner Mary Murphy said of the opening of the driving range being delayed to last week.
Customers were happy to finally begin driving balls at Garrison.
“It’s a relief to be back out playing,” said Mike Consoli of Methuen, who hit a bucket of balls and some putts on the practice green. “I am playing with a bunch of my college buddies at Hilton Head (South Carolina) in two weeks. And I hit the balls horrible today. I will be back soon. I have some work to do.”
Golfers flocked to the area's driving ranges once they opened.
“We needed this badly,” said Joanne Tremblay, 62, of Andover.
One morning last week, Tremblay hit balls at the BMF Driving Range in North Reading, just over the Andover line on Route 28, before going to the dentist.
In the afternoon, not happy with her swing as her ladies golf league begins this week, she went to nearby Sarkisian’s to hit another bucket of balls.
“I was really surprised the driving ranges didn’t open when the courses did last month,” she said. “Social distancing is easy when you hit balls. I asked why the ranges weren’t open, but I never got an answer.”
Whirlaway Golf in Methuen was busy after opening last Monday.
A steady stream of golfers, all using their own clubs (per the governor's rule), were swinging away on the mats and on the all-grass tees.
“Honestly, I’ve been going to New Hampshire to hit balls,” said Edwin Githinji of Methuen, who is part of a 36-man Kenyan group that plays in its own organized tournaments, mostly in Massachusetts.
“I love this game,” said Githinji. “It’s just so challenging and hard to master. It’s nice to be able to be close and hit some balls.”
Whirlaway co-owner Dave Kazanjian, whose family has owned the driving range since 1931, said his business decided to lay low and wait for the reopening date without debate.
“It is what it is,” said Kazanjian. “It was tough. We got a ton of calls. But safety is important for our employees and patrons. Hopefully, we have a great rest-of-the-summer.”
Several local boys left their bikes in the parking lot at Sarkisian Farms in Andover before hitting some balls and getting some ice cream.
June is the middle of the key months for driving range business, which starts big in April and May, before slowing down a bit in July and August.
“I was in Florida for three months and we played their the entire time,” said Skip Wilkins, 78, of Andover. “It hasn’t been easy. I’ve played some at our local courses, like Hickory Hill (Methuen) and Trull Brook (Tewksbury), but I missed hitting balls at the driving range.
“I understand the safety precautions,” Wilkins said. “I’m in that age group that is most affected by the virus. But golf is an outdoor sport. I don’t know what (Gov.) Baker was thinking. Hitting balls at the range is as safe as anything. I’m just happy to be back.”