Some courses defy so-called cart ban; Moose Ridge shows off newly designed safety divider

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Once upon a time, Derek Shortt was studying to be a dentist. That's what happens when you have a long family line of dentists.

Now, he's sinking his teeth into a product that just might help the state's golf industry get back on its feet.

Shortt, who graduated in December from the College of Creative Studies, has spent the past five days designing, building and installing dividers for the golf courts at his father's golf course, Moose Ridge in South Lyon. Moose Ridge is one of several Metro Detroit courses that have been allowing carts since Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's Friday order that re-opened the state's golf industry.

Derek Shortt, left, and girlfriend Shae White show off their new golf-cart divider, which is being used at Moose RIdge in South Lyon.

Whitmer said carts aren't allowed, except for people with disabilities, but Moose Ridge, after consulting with lawyers, believes the executive order doesn't specifically include the banning of carts.

"We've been kind of working on trying to get golf a little safer here," said Shortt, 32. "It's not a long-term solution to only walk these courses."

Whitmer, in her latest executive order, re-opened the public golf courses, which had been shut down in the previous two executive orders.

The latest opens up, if they so choose, the state's approximately 650 courses, and allows the return to work for a small portion of the state's 60,000 golf employees.

In the wake of her Friday announcement, golfers flocked to courses throughout the state. Moose Ridge launched a soft re-opening Saturday and had 75 golfers after 2 p.m., then 110 Sunday, and more than 200 were expected to play Monday. Tanglewood Golf Club in South Lyon had more than 300 players Saturday and Sunday. The three city-owned courses in Livonia were packed, despite pushing back tee times to 12 minutes apart, instead of the usual eight, to help with social-distancing amid the COVID-19 pandemic.

"It's just nice to see them out," said Tom Welsh, director of golf for the city of Livonia.

Livonia's courses, Fox Creek, Whispering Willows and Idyl Wyld, were allowing carts after Whitmer's announcement Friday, their lawyers telling them carts weren't in the actual executive order.

Whitmer's office updated its Frequently Asked Questions page on the state website Monday, and in it included the banning of carts.

Livonia's city officials then ordered carts pulled off its three courses, with the exception of people with disabilities — another bullet point that wasn't provided until Monday.

"Confirmation of and arrangements for any such necessary accommodation must be carried out with the course in advance, online or by phone," the governor's office posted on the always-evolving FAQ page.

Moose Ridge, a resort-style course in the style of northern Michigan properties but instead planted right in southeast Michigan, continued to allow carts Monday.

Like with Livonia, it cited that Whitmer's Friday executive order didn't include cart language, even though at her follow-up press conference, she did mention the cart ban.

A player tees off on Friday at Red Run in Royal Oak after the restrictions on golf were lifted.

The Monday update on the state website didn't discourage Moose Ridge from cutting off carts, particularly since the course isn't easily walkable. 

"We're not looking for a fight here," said Bill Shortt, Moose Ridge's owner. "We're just trying to run a business."

Moose Ridge estimated it lost nearly $200,000 in revenue during the state's five-week golf shutdown that included public courses, as private clubs were allowed to continue letting dues-paying members walk the grounds. That's a huge chunk for any Michigan golf course, given they operate under such a short season, because of the weather.

Moose Ridge, like so many courses, has taken several safety precautions, including puttying Styrofoam in cups to prevent the touching of flag sticks, the removal of rakes around sand traps, and encouraging strict social distancing among players, who should stay at least 6 feet apart.

Bill Shortt said Moose Ridge also is cleaning its carts so thoroughly after each round that "they're cleaner than the emergency room."

Its driving range also remains open, with golfers spread apart, golf balls picked up by a machine, and then sterilized between one golfer and the next.

Driving ranges also were ordered to be closed by Whitmer, who specified several other rules on the website Monday. Among them: Payment must be made in advance, online or by phone; tee times must be spaced out more than normal, to avoid multiple groups "clustering or gathering" at any stage of the course; caddies and starters aren't allowed; clubhouses, pro shops, driving ranges and miniature golf courses must stay closed; and food and beverage can be sold for takeout only.

Whitmer also has urged golfers to wear masks, though that's not required. Course workers must be provided face masks by ownership, per the governor's executive order that impacts every business that's open.

"We just want to run a golf course, employ our employees and stay alive," said Bill Shortt, who estimates he's been able to bring back about six full-time employees, of the 75 or so that are needed to run the place when season is in full swing.

Then there are his "unpaid" workers, including son Derek.

Derek Shortt recently began digging through his bin of materials last week searching for anything that could help his father increase safety measures at Moose Ridge.

The end result was his golf-cart divider, of which he's made about 23 or so — most which remain in working order (though heavy winds over the weekend destroyed some, and forced him back to the drawing board for a little bit). He used clear vinyl for the divider, nylon along the bottom and back of the divider, and then tabs with Velcro to keep the shield in place. He got a big assist from girlfriend Shae White, a CCS student who graduates soon, and who taught Derek Shortt the intricacies of sewing.

The cups at Moose Ridge feature raised Styrofoam, to avoid contact with the flag sticks.

Bill Shortt wants the dividers to be used in all carts that have two people who aren't from the same household. Golfers also have the option to have their own carts.

Derek Shortt already has submitted a patent request on his divider, which is pending. The often-talked-about "new normal" could take a liking to the dividers, which require zero drilling into the actual cart, which is key. Most courses have to rent their carts.

After graduation, Derek Shortt was supposed to be in Italy doing some consulting for a family friend's firm, but that got shut down. He's still doing some of that remotely, but he's on the clock for Dad now, too. A dentist couldn't have helped a golf course in this crisis.

"I thought it'd really be more fun to make the equipment than use it," Derek Shortt said of why, years ago, he changed paths from his pre-dentistry studies to, eventually, product design at CCS.

"Now, we had a little down time, and it just kind of came together."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984