Tee sheets throughout Minnesota filled up within hours of the governor’s announcement that courses could be reopened. Clubs in New York state also got a cautious green light through a clarification of how play could be permitted, and courses in southern California’s Ventura County received permission to reopen. Private clubs in Michigan got bolder about telling members to come and play, and the push for play in south Florida got support from a Trump (not related to the President) and a cardiologist who said the decision to close courses “was not based on science or understanding of the workings and precautions that [clubs] were performing.”
Here is C+RB‘s latest roundup and summary of club-related developments surrounding the pandemic that have recently been reported. Please send updates on what your property is doing that you would like to share with the C+RB community to [email protected].
All of C+RB’s daily updates on the coronavirus situation can be found at https://clubandresortbusiness.com/category/covid-19/.
Persistence Pays Off
Golf proponents’ passionate and persistent efforts to convince government officials that play could be permitted safely and would provide citizens with a much-needed recreational option paid off as the weekend of April 18-19 unfolded, with relaxation of restrictions in Minnesota, New York, and California’s Ventura County. Headway was also being made in other areas including Maine, Michigan and south Florida.
Here’s a roundup of the breakthroughs and potential progress made in several spots around the country:
- Just in time for the last melting snow and a sunny weekend forecast, Minnesota Gov. Tim Walz announcement on the morning of April 17 that golf courses across the state would be opened starting Saturday morning, April 18, was followed by a rush by golfers to get tee times, the Minneapolis Star Tribune reported.
Within a couple of hours of Walz’s announcement, the Star Tribune reported, Loggers Trail Golf Course in Stillwater, Minn. had booked 213 golfers in 43 minutes, teeing off from 8 a.m. to 3:36 p.m. on Saturday the 18th. And the public Edinburgh USA course in Brooklyn Park, Minn. saw its tee sheets for both weekend days filled from 8 a.m. to 4:50 p.m. with phone and internet bookings.
“People want to play, I’m just happy it happened,” longtime Edinburgh golf pro Don Berry told the Star Tribune. “We went from shelter-in-place to full-go mode in about 10 minutes. The phone has just been ringing off the hook.
“It’ll be a little bit of a problem with staffing because we just don’t have it,” Berry added. “We’re winging it. But believe me, we’re just happy to be back.”
Oak Marsh Golf Course in Oakdale, Minn., was among the state’s first courses to open in mid-March, the Star Tribune reported, before Walz’s executive order closed it along with bars, restaurants and other places of “public accommodation.” When asked on Friday morning the 17th after Walz’s announcement when his course could be ready, General Manager/Director of Golf Steve Whillock said, “Tomorrow, this afternoon. We’re ready. I’ve got staff already lined up, ready to come in and help.”
Two hours later, the Star Tribune reported, Oak Marsh’s tee sheet was booked for all of both weekend days, even though the weather for Sunday the 19th called for temperatures only in the high 40s.
April 18 was maybe a week behind an opening date for most Minnesota courses in most years, the Star Tribune reported. An early spring had allowed several courses to open in early March and hope for one of their best seasons ever, until stay-at-home edicts closed them.
Walz’s order came with more than two weeks remaining before his stay-at-home extension expires May 4, the Star Tribunereported, and two weeks after he allowed course workers to mow grass and maintain “critical turf” that includes greens, tee boxes and fairways.
“It’s important for us to stay active and enjoy the outdoors while preventing the spread of COVID-19,” Walz said in a statement. “This measure will allow Minnesotans to take advantage of more opportunities to get outside, while doing their part to keep their neighbors healthy.”
Walz also reminded Minnesotans to participate in outdoor activities near home because that helps prevent them from spreading the virus. Under his order, outdoor recreation doesn’t include tournaments, team events and events that attract a crowd.
A golf pro from Nebraska—where courses have opened—advised Minnesota peers in a conference call about golfers there who still high-fived each other, rode two or three to a cart and congregated in the parking lot after their round, the Star Tribune reported.
“It’s hard to police,” said Oak Marsh’s Whillock. “People need to understand how serious this is. All the golfers out there will have to be respectful to the guidelines and rules, or the game will be taken away as fast it was put out there.”
At Fox Hollow Golf Club in St. Michael, Minn., the Star Tribune’s Patrick Reusse reported, 110 vehicles were in the upper and overflow parking lots at 3:30 p.m. on Saturday the 18th. As two players loaded up to leave, another pair would arrive to pull into a parking spot.
There were tee times claimed until nearly 6 p.m. at Fox Hollow, with the latest starters signed up for nine holes, Reusse reported. Play had started at 8 a.m. and more than 200 golfers had already teed off and they still were coming. Even with lower temperatures forecasted for the next day, tee times had once again been claimed.
“The Governor [Tim Walz] announced at 11 o’clock Friday that golf courses could open on Saturday,’’ Fox Hollow’s head golf pro, Eric Larson, told Reusse. “We started taking reservations around 12:30. And within an hour, tee times were gone for the weekend.’’
Guidelines issued to Fox Hollow players, along with “the basics” about not handling flagsticks and keeping their distance, included not showing up until 20 minutes before a scheduled tee time, and leaving immediately finishing, Reusse reported.
Peter Hoffman, another pro on the Fox Hollow staff, noted that rangers weren’t needed to keep people moving, because “the groups are doing that themselves,” Reusse reported.
Seven miles to the southeast, in Rogers, Minn., the Pheasant Acres Golf Course also had 100 cars in the parking lot, Reusse reported. “We started at 9 a.m. and our last tee time for nine holes is at 6:42 [p.m.],’’ starter Mike Bloberger said. “Same situation tomorrow.’’
Added Tom Wiebusch, Pheasant Acres’ Head Golf Professional: “We could’ve been playing three weeks ago, with the weather, but that’s behind us. We’re back and we’re grateful to see the golfers so enthused.
“The governor made his announcement and our tee times were made available right away, and every slot we had for the weekend was gone in 20 minutes,’’ Wiebusch said.
At Brookview Golf Course in Golden Valley, Minn., a property that also offers lawn bowling, 90 percent of the tee times were booked within a two-hour span after Gov. Walz’s announcement, according to Golf Operations Manager Ben Disch.
Tee times at Brookview were set 20 minutes apart instead of ten, to give golfers more space. “A lot of golfers are joking, ‘I’m nowhere near anybody on Disch said.
At the club’s driving range, Disch added, people were spaced ten feet apart, vs. the usual five to six feet.
At Golden Valley (Minn.) Country Club, station KARE NBC 11 of Minneapolis reported, a special member helped to welcome back play, with professional golfer Rocco Mediate, who has six PGA Tour wins, lost in a playoff to Tiger Woods in the 2008 U.S. Open at Torrey Pines, and now plays on the Champions Tour, playing in the club’s opening group after the course was reopened.
- In New York state, Empire State Development, the state authority in charge of determining essential and non-essential businesses, updated its guidance on April 17th and opened the door for clubs and courses to reopen to golfers as long as almost all direct employees are not on the premises.
Golf courses had been added to the state’s list of non-essential businesses on April 9th, with Melissa DeRosa, the top aide to Gov. Andrew Cuomo, saying that allowing golf would be “counter to the message” the state was trying to send regarding everyone staying home and obeying social distancing.
But the new guidelines set by the Empire State Development office now is being interpreted as allowing public courses to allow play with only groundskeeping and security present (so fees must be paid online) and for private courses to “permit individuals access to the property so long as there are no gatherings of any kind and appropriate social distancing of six feet between individuals is strictly abided.” It is now being left up to individual owners or operators to decide whether to open under the ground rules laid out by the state, which also include walking-only play and no caddies.
“If there is decent weather on Sunday [April 19], I’m sure the members will be at club,” Barry Chandler, General Manager of Nissequogue Golf Club in Saint James, N.Y., told Newsday after the clarification from Empire State Development had been issued. “There will be no operation. They will just come and park and walk. We’re going to tell them they can play anytime after nine o’clock in the morning.
“We did this before the governor changed his mind about walking,” Chandler added. “When the state courses were open, with golf carts, we were only allowing walking.”
“I spoke to all the area clubs, and everyone is opening up,” Brad Matthees, General Manager of the Rockville Links Club in Rockville Centre, N.Y., told Newsday. “We don’t need the personnel like a public course does in order to operate. Just have one security person at the first tee monitoring from inside and that’s it. No range, no practice facility. All the stuff we were doing before.”
“We’re open for play, with twosomes walking only,” added Meg O’Connor, General Manager of Nassau Country Club in Glen Cove, N.Y.
Rich Scott, the owner and golf pro at Fox Run Golf Club in Johnstown, N.Y., told The Daily Gazette of Schenectady, N.Y. that his course was planning to open at 9 a.m. on Sunday, April 19, and that his phone had already been ringing off the hook.
“This is a business where people can practice social distancing and enjoy themselves,” Scott said. “I think this is great. It gives everyone a little direction and people can come out and take their mind of the worries.”
No everyone, however, was jumping to open immediately, The Daily Gazette reported.
At Stadium Golf Club in Schenectady, owner Greg Hennel said he found the state’s new guidelines vague, and was going to wait longer before opening. “I’m going to give it a few days and see what transpires, so I’m being cautious,” Hennel said.
“There is no access to the clubhouse, and that includes the bathrooms, and I have a problem with that,” he added. “Once we open up, we’re busy.”
• In this video report, CBS 2 News of Los Angeles reported that courses in southern California’s Ventura County received permission to reopen on Sunday April 19th: https://losangeles.cbslocal.com/video/4519702-golf-courses-get-permission-to-re-open-in-ventura-county/
- The state of Michigan‘s golf-course shutdown isn’t proving to be all-encompassing, based on communications sent to the memberships of several private clubs in the metropolitan Detroit area, The Detroit News reported.
Officials at Red Run Golf Club at Royal Oak, Plum Hollow Country Club in Southfield and Indianwood Golf & Country Club in Orion Township, among others, have informed their memberships that they are free to play the courses, albeit with restrictions, The News reported.
Rick Burkardt, General Manager of Plum Hollow, told members in an e-mail on April 17 that the course would re-open for play starting at noon on Saturday the 18th, The News reported.
“There has been a lot of confusion during the last few weeks pertaining to golf,” Burkardt wrote to members, The News reported. “With these conflicting statements we are focusing on the fact that we are a private club that can allow play without opening any part of our golf operation including the locker room, golf shop or cart operation.
“With the availability of online tee times along with a membership that can adhere to specific rules, we could assure adherence with social-distancing rules,” the e-mail added.
Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer has issued a series of ever-more restrictive executive, stay-at-home orders, The News reported. The first allowed golf courses to stay open, but subsequent ones have shut them down—affecting an industry that boasts about 650 courses, public and private, in the state, generates billions in annual revenue, and employs about 60,000 workers.
More recently, though, Michigan Attorney General Dana Nessel, on her website answering frequently asked questions about the executive order, seemed to greenlight members being able to walk private courses, at which they’ve already paid membership fees, The News reported.
Plum Hollow laid out a series of guidelines for play, including: walking only, online tee times, no arriving prior to 15 minutes before the tee time, three or fewer players per group, and no push carts and bags can be left on the premises after the road, The News reported. Players must adhere to social-distancing guidelines, flag sticks must not be removed, and the club’s driving range, putting green, locker rooms, clubhouse, golf shop, bathrooms, cart barn and bag room will be closed.
Additionally, no guests of members are allowed to play the course.
“Our ability to adhere to these [rules] is the key to the health of our community and your access to enjoy your course,” Burkardt wrote to members. “For anyone who refuses to abide be these rules, steps will be taken to have their privileges revoked going forward.
“Please enjoy this opportunity for some time outdoors at your club.”
Similar measures were outlined in a letter from the Red Run Board of Directors to its membership, The Newsreported.
Red Run will allow twosomes only (again, no guests), and also have a walking-only policy. The greens are without flagsticks, and the bunkers without rakes. Its driving range, putting green locker rooms, clubhouse, halfway shack, golf shop, bathrooms and bag room will remain closed.
Both Plum Hollow and Red Run are keeping their curbside dining operations open, as allowed by the state, The News reported.
In its letter to members, Red Run’s Board cited “inconsistencies” in Whitmer’s order in allowing play, The Newsreported.
“These are unprecedented times and we look forward to enjoying with you all the normal camaraderie and fun we’ve become accustomed to at our club when safe,” Red Run’s Board wrote in its e-mail. “In the meantime, be well, stay healthy, and stay safe.”
Red Run’s Board also told members that if they choose to play, they run the risk of any potential fines for violating the governor’s order, The News reported. Those fines can range between $500 and $1,000.
Plum Hollow, Red Run and Indianwood said in the e-mails to members that they are not to congregate on the grounds, but rather depart immediately after they’re finished playing, The News reported.
Keith Aldridge, Vice President and General Manager of Indianwood, told members in a letter that it was opening the course starting April 14th, The News reported.
“During these uncertain times, I am excited to report some good news today!” Aldridge wrote.
Indianwood announced to members essentially the same safety precautions as Red Run and Plum Hollow, including twosomes only and no carts (personal push carts are allowed). In opening, the club cited comments made by Oakland County Sheriff Mike Bouchard to Detroit’s Channel 4, when he said he wasn’t going to assign any of his deputies to monitor golf courses.
The Oakland County Sheriff’s Department issued the following statement when asked about golf, The News reported:
“There have been conflicting reports on whether or not golf courses may be open. The Governor has stated all golf courses are to remain closed. The Attorney General has ruled while golf course clubhouses must remain closed, those who are members of private courses are allowed to walk the course. Should the Sheriff’s Office be dispatched to a call in reference to a violation of the Governor’s Order based on a golf course operating, Deputies will check to see if the Clubhouse is open and operating. If it is not operating for golf or dining, this will be considered compliance and the course will not be checked for players. We do not have the time nor resources to send Deputies out and look for golfers.”
Other private clubs that are said to be allowing play, The News reported, include Meadowbrook Country Club in Northville, Oak Pointe Country Club in Brighton, Great Oaks Country Club in Rochester Hills and Prestwick Village Golf Club in Highland.
But some private clubs in the metropolitan Detroit area aren’t seeing the situation in the same way, The News reported, after it confirmed that Oakland Hills Country Club in Bloomfield Township and Detroit Golf Club remain closed to member play.
Public courses, on a whole, have remained closed throughout the state, The News reported though public courses and private clubs can keep having maintenance staff working, in order to keep the grounds in playable shape for when golf is allowed again.
“It’s not fair to public golf course operators,” said Mark Stevenson, PGA pro at Tanglewood Golf Club in South Lyon. “I wish the governor would issue clear orders.”
Multiple state lawmakers and the state’s association of golf organizations have petitioned the governor to ease the executive-order restrictions as the golf ban has become surprisingly political—even the attorney general took heat on Twitter after referring to golf as a white-person’s sport—but Whitmer has declined to do so, The News reported.
The governor has said that May 1st is the target date to start easing some restrictions, but she hasn’t been overly specific about what that could involve, The News noted.
Michigan has been the site of some of the largest and most vocal protests from those pushing for reopening businesses and relaxing stay-at-home requirements.
In Genesee County, Mich., County Prosecutor David Layton said that he has heard from several local private golf clubs and advised them that whether they allow members to walk and play on their golf courses is up to them, station WJRT ABC 12 in Flint, Mich. reported.
“Well, you know, golf is similar to walking outside; if you’re not taking a cart, you’re just walking. You’re essentially out for a walk,” Leyton said. “And under very restrictive situations, walk-ons in private clubs is permitted.”
- A clash between Palm Beach County (Fla.) leaders trying to contain the coronaviruspandemic and restless citizens seeking an end to stay-at-home restrictions is playing out on, of all places, the golf course, The Palm Beach Post reported.
While frustrated protesters across the United States are calling for states to re-open, a local charge being led by golfers is gaining momentum, The Post reported.
Unable to swing irons and putters on wide open greens and fairways, they are pelting county commissioners with letters and petitions calling for an end to the countywide closure of golf courses, in place since March 25, The Post reported.
“I’m just a guy who got fed up with our civil liberties being taken away from us,″ said Scott Eckert, a Boca Raton, Fla. golfer who launched an online petition on April 17 that garnered more than 1,400 signatures in its first day, The Post reported.
The goal is to re-open limited recreational activities that can be done within Center for Disease Control social-distancing guidelines, including golfing, tennis, surfing and maybe even hiking in public wilderness areas, The Post reported.
“Our leaders don’t trust us to be responsible and that’s a problem,″ Eckert said. “They are making the decision to say, ‘We don’t think you are responsible enough to play golf.’ Who gave them that right? Trust your constituents to play a sport that is an honorable game.″
County mayor Dave Kerner said on April 17 that he is “sensitive” to residents who are tired of being trapped in their homes with no restaurants, bars or recreational sites open, The Post reported. But those frustrations won’t change the county’s stance to keep golf courses and other sites closed, Kerner added.
“They are closed,” he said at a coronavirus taskforce briefing. “And they are not opening tomorrow. They are not opening on Tuesday. They are not opening on Thursday. They are closed for the foreseeable future.”
Kerner’s “line in the sand” is “horribly short-sighted,″ golfer Rod Trump wrote on April 18 to Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis in an e-mail that included the mayor’s comments, The Post reported.
“While taking appropriate precautions, we physically and mentally NEED to be outside and active,″ wrote Trump, who golfs at Pine Tree Golf Club in Boynton Beach.
“These activities are inherently socially distant and with gyms and pools closed, these are vital outlets to stay active, keep fit and manage stress during this challenging time,″ he added.
While DeSantis has allowed golf courses to remain open in other parts of Florida, leaders in Palm Beach, Broward and Miami-Dade counties each ordered public and private course closures as a precaution, The Post reported.
That three-county area represents the state’s coronavirus hot spot, with more than half of the cases in Florida and a vast majority of the state’s deaths.
But even before the closures, golfers say, South Florida country clubs and courses already had been enforcing their own strict precautions, aside from social distancing.
“We don’t want anyone getting sick. We were being good citizens,″ said Eckert, who golfs at Royal Palm Yacht and Country Club in Boca Raton. “We were being responsible, and we are being penalized.″
Aside from golfers itching to get back outside, caddies and staff are losing income, as are waiters at club restaurants and bars, the proponents for reopening noted.
“This is not a bunch of spoiled rich guys saying, ‘Ah, we can’t play this game we like.’ There’s been a lot of impact. There is damage being done,″ Trump said.
Dr. John J. Layden, a Jupiter, Fla. cardiologist who is among dozens of golfers who have written letters to county commissioners in recent weeks, said the virus is not transmitted in outdoor activities like golf, The Post reported.
“I urge you to reconsider [the closures], as I believe this decision was not based on science or understanding of the workings and precautions that our courses were performing,″ he wrote to Kerner.
Letters from golfers, along with a handful from surfers and park users, have been pouring into commissioners since March 25, The Post reported. On April 18, letters from many golfers mentioned the city of Jacksonville’s decision the previous day to open beaches and parks.
In his letter to county commissioners, Trump acknowledged the “delicate balance between protecting lives from COVID-19 and protecting our health and well-being physically, mentally, spiritually and financially,″ The Post reported.
But he said there is a way to re-open golf courses and other activities in a safe and responsible manner.
“Everyone has seen the awful numbers of the coronavirus. No one wants to get it. I don’t think anyone is going to put themselves in harm’s way,″ he told The Post.
“Golfers by nature are a sophisticated, respectable lot. They will take their responsibility very seriously,″ Trump added.
Andy Thomson, a Boca Raton City Councilman, said on social media that he will introduce a resolution asking the county “to open all beaches, passive parks [public and private], tennis courts and private golf courses” to people who “adhere to social-distancing guidelines,″ The Post reported.
At least one county commissioner, vice mayor Robert Weinorth, said he thinks there can be a way to safely and responsibly open up golf courses and other recreational amenities, The Post reported.
“I think we need to be letting our stakeholders know that we are not ignoring their pleas,” Weinroth said. “We are not heartless and we certainly want them to be able to go out and exercise. We don’t want to be accused of creating more health problems by having people being sedentary.
“Walking on the beach or knocking a ball around on a golf course are probably activities that can be allowed without worrying too much about social distancing,” he added.
- The hope in Maine is that golf courses in the state can be open by May 1st, NBC News Center Maine reported, and a petition urging Gov. Janet Mills to pave the way for that to happen by declaring golf an essential business has gathered more than 7,300 signatures, which represents over a quarter of the state’s golfing community.
During a normal sunny weekend afternoon in April, NBC News Center Maine reported, Head Professional Rob Jarvis would be working in the pro shop or giving lessons at Bangor (Maine) Municipal Golf Course. But now he is spending his days painting doors or doing anything he can to help around the clubhouse.
“I’ve kind of been a full-time handyman in the past two weeks,” Jarvis told NBC News Center Maine.
Avid golfer Christian McCrory created the petition to urge Gov. Mills to change golf’s status, NBC News Center Maine reported. “We’re just hoping we can find some middle ground and where we can get this healthy activity back to the golf community in the state,” McCrory said.
A handful of courses in southern Maine were open briefly before golf was listed as a non-essential business, NBC News Center Maine reported. In Bangor, Jarvis said his course is rarely ready by mid-April, but that it will be ready by the end of the month.
“May 1st, that’s when we’d really like to play, I think it’s doable by then,” he said. Revenue will begin to be lost if courses remain closed through mid-May, he added.
Jarvis also noted that golf will look different for a long time, as courses make sure they adhere to precautionary measures to stop the spread of COVID-19. “We need to be very careful and follow the science on this one,” he said.
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