Tee times are becoming more regular and leagues have already begun at area golf courses, as the die hard duffers return to their healthy addiction, even with some handicaps. The weather has been the biggest handicap, so far.

Golf courses opened May 1 across the state with COVID-19 restrictions. The COVID handicaps limit play to a two-some (only 2 people playing together in a group). Tee times must be at least 15 minutes apart to keep the two-some’s socially distant. Carts are limited to one person. Carts are available for those who are not physically capable of walking the course.

In the Shelby County area, Eagle Creek Golf Course, an 18-hole course at Eagle Creek State Park, is a favorite.

A few miles northeast of there, Timberlake Golf Course, a 9-hole course also adjacent to part of Lake Shelbyville, is in its third week of leagues.

Timberlake’s sister course, Meadowview, an 18-hole golf course near Lake Land College south of Mattoon, has also started their league play.

Area courses and golfers got a taste of their passion this spring and then the waiter came and took away their entree. Eagle Creek opened under new management on March 9, then was promptly shut down March 17 by the state, in response to the health crisis.

Gary Salaski, a retired teacher and coach, suffered that fate with the governor’s emergency order and public health restrictions due to the coronavirus.

“I paid my season pass, played one day, then they closed,” Salaski said. “Having to sit out wasn’t good. It was driving me nuts. It’s fun to get out and do something.”

Richard Cavanaugh, a retired EIU professor, had a similar experience, having his play interrupted.

“We played in March,” Cavanaugh said. “We’ve played two or three times since it’s re-opened. It is good to get out and about. It’s therapy. We always played two or three times a week at Eagle Creek in the past. We play Meadowview, Fox Prairie, Ironhorse, but we enjoy Eagle Creek the most.”

Salaski and Cavanaugh tried to stay busy around their houses during the hiatus.

“I had a lot of projects around the house,” Salaski said. “I painted walls and did repairs. Every day I would get up and say, ‘What can I do today?’ This really helps.”

“There is always something to do around the house,” Cavanaugh said. “To us playing at Eagle Creek is a day-long event, like a mini-vacation. It’s a 45-minute drive, we play and enjoy nature, and we usually stop and get something to eat.”

Cavanaugh and his golf buddy, retired teacher Don Starwalt, both from Charleston, have played for 45 years and played Eagle Creek since it opened.

Salaski played Fox Prairie before, but it closed. He and his usual two-some partner, Frank Rincker, call each other if the weather is good and they go to Eagle Creek.

“I like it because it’s relatively close,” Salaski said. “It’s a challenging course, but fun. You have to keep it straight and stay in the fairways. The holes are different with different elevations.”

Salaski has played other courses in the area, but with a season pass at Eagle Creek, he can play as much as he wants. Season passes at Timberlake also includes play for Meadowview, Taylorville and the Oaks Golf Course in Springfield

Cavanaugh and Salaski appreciate the beauty of Eagle Creek.

“Every course has its charms. There are no houses there and no errant shot is going to end up in someone’s yard,” Cavanaugh said. “The setting is beautiful, every season of the year. There is deer and turkeys and Red Tail Hawks. We saw a fox with her babies near the practice green.”

“We see lots of deer and foxes often,” Salaski said. “I saw the largest snapping turtle I’ve ever seen. His head was as big as a baseball.”

“It’s one of the best looking courses,” Cavanaugh said. “You can see Lake Shelbyville on various holes and it adds to the beauty of it.”

The golfers have not had their style cramped too much by the COVID handicaps.

“The restrictions have not been that bad.” Salaski said. “You can still use a cart, if you have a health issue. When you are 77, your hips and knees are going to keep you from walking 18 holes. Eagle Creek is long. Some holes are very long.”

Salaski uses Titleist clubs and Titleist balls, but is transitioning to Ping clubs. Salaski can shoot in the 70’s. He shot 77 on his 77th birthday.

Cavanaugh, raised in a family of nine children, started out with a scrub set of clubs at age 14. He is left-handed, but plays golf right-handed, because right-handed clubs were the only clubs he had when he started out.

Now he uses Titleist clubs and Titleist balls, that are personalized. His recent phrase on his balls is “Artfully landed by Richard.” Cavanaugh shoots in the mid 80’s.

“Of course if someone else finds my ball, it wasn’t so ‘artfully landed.’” Cavanaugh said.

Cavanaugh had high praise for the current manager at Eagle Creek, Josh Weeks, and the former managers. He also had compliments to the grounds keepers.

“They do a wonderful job,” Cavanaugh said. “The course is in wonderful condition. I don’t know how they do it.”

John Curtis can be reached at john.curtis@shelbyvilledailyunion.com

John Curtis can be reached at john.curtis@shelbyvilledailyunion.com

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