Just as the first days of spring swept through the grounds at Chautauqua Institution, so too did the March 16 order to close all non-essential businesses in the state of New York.
Included in this order was the Turner Community Center, the year-round gym at Chautauqua Institution. Turner, and other recreation facilities at the Institution — including the Chautauqua Golf Club, the Chautauqua Tennis Center, Sports Club and Children’s Beach — see an influx of Chautauquans as warmer weather moves in. Only as of June 27 were all operations of the recreation pillar at the Institution up and running, albeit under new guidelines and operating procedures.
The Chautauqua Golf Club has been in operation the longest, resuming some activities in the week following the March 16 closure, followed by the opening of the Tennis Center at the end of May. Each of the operations has been able to welcome new visitors this season, something that Director of Recreation Meg Pickard finds inspiring.
“At both the Golf Club and the Tennis Center, we have been welcoming new patrons this year. Sme trying these sports for the very first time, others revisiting a sport they haven’t had time to play in years,” Pickard said. “It’s been encouraging to watch younger generations becoming involved in greater numbers.”
Both golf and tennis have a rich history at Chautauqua, with the first lawn tennis court set up in 1878 by Chautauqua co-founder Bishop John Heyl Vincent, and the first round of golf played on July 18, 1914. Each is currently operating with new procedures and reduced capacity. The Learning Center driving range, putting greens and practice holes at the Golf Club are now open for use, along with the pro shop, restrooms and regular courses, for which social distancing guidelines are in place. The Tennis Center is also open for court use as well as limited lessons and pro shop hours.
Though the Golf Club and Tennis Center were the first of the recreation departments to re-open, they were certainly not the last. Sports Club and Children’s Beach opened for use on June 27, offering a smattering of their usual fair. At Sports Club, kayak, paddleboard and paddleboat rentals are available, and shuffleboard courts are open. Children’s Beach is staffed with lifeguards and is open under social distancing guidelines.
More recently, some activities have resumed at Chautauqua Health and Fitness at the Turner Community Center, including outdoor group exercise classes and limited pool operations with no more than 10 people allowed in the pool at one time. Pickard says she is unsure of when indoor fitness center activities will be able to resume, and that the Department of Recreation is relying on government guidelines to determine what will be open.
Currently, virtual fitness videos are available to anyone who was a Chautauqua Health and Fitness member as of March 16, though Pickard hopes to expand the virtual platform to include sailing, golf and tennis videos. In addition to virtual fitness, the Old First Night Run/Walk, organized through the Sports Club, is the only other virtual programming currently available to Chautauquans.
The OFN Run/Walk, a Chautauqua tradition beloved by many, will be taking place virtually this year on Aug, 1, ensuring that Chautauquans of all ages can still participate in a cornerstone activity.
“We created a video of the Chautauqua run course so runners across the globe will feel like they are here,” Pickard said. Registration for the race includes an OFN virtual run T-shirt, and the Sports Club will be selling OFN 2020 posters.
The transition to virtual recreation programming has been a challenging one, pushing Pickard and her associates to the limits, but they are glad to do it. “This has been an amazingly tempestuous period,” Pickard said. “This small but passionate lot of individuals makes it possible for many folks in our community to experience a bit of normalcy amongst the chaos inherent at this time.”