Driving range owners: Why not us?

TIM JEAN/Staff photoSarkis and Rita Sarkisian, in front, with their two children Jeff Sarkisian and Christine Kourkounian are hopeful they will be able to reopen Sarkisian Farms Driving Range and Ice Cream stand in Andover soon. The driving range run by the family for 25 years, is closed but are able to serve from their Ice Cream stand with restrictions because of the coronavirus crisis. 5/20/20

Blue sky hovered over 3 acres of well-cropped grass at Sarkisian Farms Driving Range and Ice Cream Stand in West Andover on Tuesday morning.

The ice cream shop sported a fresh coat of white paint. Shots popped in the distance from the nearby Andover Gun Club, which opened a day before.

But there was one big problem: an empty parking lot and 33 vacant driving range bays.

The Sarkisians, owners of the business and property that has been in the family for 100 years, were gravely disappointed.

The family — Sarkis and Rita Sarkisian, son Jeff Sarkisian and daughter Christine Kourkounian — mistakenly expected the range could open as part of Gov. Charlie Baker's decision that golf courses were allowed to resume business May 7.

“We called the town to make sure everything was a go and we were told, ‘No, golf ranges are not golf courses,’” Jeff Sarkisian said.

Their driving range opened at the beginning of March, but closed March 20 per orders of the state. This week marks two months of being shut down — two of the busiest months in their golf season.

“We had everything ready to go," Jeff Sarkisian said. 

Whirlaway Running and Golf Center in Methuen, in business since 1931, is in the same situation.

“This is crazy,” said owner and PGA teaching pro Mark Kazanjian, whose facility has a combined 62 bays, some covered with mats and on grass.

“This is simple for us, keeping people safe,” Kazanjian continued. “People don’t have to touch anything, just put their credit card in the machine. We’re ready. The weather is perfect. People are ringing us off the hook. They want to hit golf balls. But nobody is telling us anything.”

The Sarkisians, who opened the ice cream stand a few weeks ago, said business there has been good. But revenue from the golf range, particularly from March through June when golfers are gearing up for the season, is their largest money-maker.

“We have a traffic pattern for people to walk that is better than the Big Dig’s plan,” Jeff Sarkisian said. “We have everything marked off. People that are going to golf walk around the building. People that are finished walk down a path and to the parking lot."

The balls are picked up by a machine, he said, and cleaned with bleach. Golf bays are separated by 7-plus feet, better the standard 6 feet.

Time is of the essence if they are to recoup from their closure and salvage some of the season, he said.

"This is our prime time. Right now.”

You can email Bill Burt at bburt@newburyportnews.com.

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