On a sweltering day like today, a healing drink of cold water on a public golf course can be rather hard to come by. Turns out it’s sort of a tough decision for Minnesota golf course operators whether to provide a few coolers for customers, many of whom develop a mighty thirst during a typical four to five hour round (especially those who walk rather than drive a power cart).
Anoka’s Greenhaven course removed its on-course water coolers at the beginning of season.
“It was not an easy decision,” said General Manager Larry Norland, who admits to a smidgen of worry about golfers becoming dehydrated.
A water cooler enclosure sits empty near the 14th tee at Greenhaven golf course in Anoka, Minn. (MPR Photo/Bob Ingrassia)
Norland said it was getting too expensive to comply with the Minnesota Department of Health’s extensive guidelines for the safe dispensation of drinking water on golf courses. Norland figures it would run the course up to $6,000 per year in extra labor costs.
The Health Department issued the guidelines in 2004 in response to the death of an Arizona teenager in 2002. The 15 year-old golfer died, and 82 others were sickened, after contracting the Norwalk virus. Arizona health authorities believe the common link was the on-course water coolers at the Thunderbirds Golf Course in Phoenix. The course ended up settling a lawsuit from the boy’s parents for $3 million.
Greenhaven golfers can get water inside the clubhouse at the beginning of their round, of course, and can fill up as they pass the building again during the course of play, but that’s clearly less convenient and adds to the length of play. And as any golfer knows, courses try to get you to play as fast as possible.
Plenty of other Minnesota courses no longer provide drinking water, partly because they fear lawsuits over contamination. They include Theodore Wirth, Three Rivers, Pebble Creek, Southbrook, Albion Ridge and Glen Lake.
Many other golf course have made the opposite decision of course, believing they can reduce the risk of health problems by careful handling of water. Indeed, there appear to be no accounts of golf course water cooler-induced illnesses in Minnesota.
“I don’t know of any health instances at all,” said Gary Edwards of the Minnesota Department of Health.
Workers at the Inver Wood golf course in Inver Grove Heights bleach their coolers every night, and wear gloves when filling them with clean water and ice.
“It can be a problem not having water out there for golfers,” said Inver Wood manger Al McMurchie. “You can just as easily get sued is someone heat strokes on you.”
It does cost extra to provide safe coolers, said McMurchie, but it’s worth it from a customer service standpoint. “People get a bad taste in their mouths when they have to spend two bucks on a bottle of water,” he said.
McMurchie says the Health Department checks on its water handling practices once a year.
Courses that continue to provide on-course water, or are watering their customers again after having pulled coolers for a time, include Meadowbrook, River Oaks, Bluff Creek, Chominix, Braemar and Ramsey County courses. Many are now using sanitary plastic liners in their coolers to minimize the risk of contamination.