(Pictured: Golf in Palm Springs, Calif.)
Riverside County, Calif., which includes the golf-centric resort cities of Palm Springs, Indian Wells, La Quinta and others in its central Coachella Valley region, becomes the largest county in the state to tweak stay-at-home rules to allow play, with officials saying courses could be “cautiously reopened for observation.” Denver, Colo., Asheville, N.C., and Fargo, N.D. also announced the opening of public courses, while more courses in New York state welcomed play and lawmakers in New Jersey and Miami-Dade County, Fla. voiced their desire to be among the next to end restrictions.
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Momentum continued as the new week began for golf courses to lead the charge for “liberation” from coronavirus-imposed quarantines throughout the U.S., with the lifting of no-play restrictions announced in several areas, including Riverside County, Calif. And those announcements prompted others in areas where play is still not allowed to be more forceful in advocating for a lifting of restrictions.
Riverside County, Calif., which includes the golf-centric resort cities of Palm Springs, Indian Wells, La Quinta and others in its central Coachella Valley region, has allowed public and private golf courses to reopen, in an easing of restrictions that had been in place due to the coronavirus, the Los Angeles Times reported.
“Play is being cautiously reopened for observation,” Dr. Cameron Kaiser, Riverside County’s public health officer, said in a statement, stressing that social-distancing guidelines remain in effect, The Times reported.
The county had shut down all courses on April 2nd and said at that time that play would not be allowed until June 19th.
County health officials released the following guidelines for play during the observation period, the Times reported:
- Play limited to foursomes, with players required to observe a six-foot separation at all times.
- No caddies permitted.
- No large gatherings, including fundraisers or tournaments, permitted before June 20.
- Face coverings worn by players and workers.
- No in-person dining allowed at clubhouses.
The order also cited the full list of provisions in the “Park and Play: Making Your Course Social-Distance Ready” program developed by the National Golf Courses Owners Association as requirements that courses must follow during the observation period.
Riverside is the largest county in California to make tweaks to its stay-at-home rules, the Timesreported. Golf is a big business in the county, especially in the Coachella Valley.
“Golf is an iconic part of our destination, our history and our economy,” said Scott White, Chief Operating Officer of the Greater Palm Springs Convention and Visitors Bureau, in a statement released by the county. “We sincerely appreciate the news that golf will be reopened to allow our residents the opportunity to return to the sport they love.
“It is imperative that we follow the orders outlined and not allow the coronavirus to return to the previous levels,” White added. “We will continue to work with Riverside County with the goal to help reopen more tourism-related businesses.”
The county’s amended order also allowed “other forms of recreational activity, such as use of parks, trails and outdoor areas for hiking, biking, pickleball and tennis to resume.”
Riverside County’s announcement came a few days after Ventura County, which has by far the fewest number of COVID-19 cases and deaths among all Southern California counties, allowed some businesses, including golf courses, to reopen and said that gatherings of up to five people would be allowed for the first time since stay-at-home orders went into effect last month, the Times reported.
Because golf properties were described as essential businesses by Riverside County in its April 2 order, which allowed them to still be watered and mowed, area courses reported that they were ready to host play after the no-golf ruling was amended. “We could go tomorrow,” said Jim Robinson, Director of Golf at the 36-hole Indian Ridge Country Club in Palm Desert, Calif.
Rocky Mountain Golf High
Michael Hancock, Mayor of Denver, Colo., announced in his press conference on Monday that city-operated golf courses would reopen to the public on Wednesday, April 22, KDVR Fox 31 of Denver reported.
There are eight City of Denver that will all now operated under the same restrictions, outlined at https://www.cityofdenvergolf.com/covid-policies, KDVR reported.
Pope Sets the Rules
Less than a week after Asheville (N.C.) Municipal Golf Course closed due to the city’s request for more aggressive social-distancing restrictions, Keith Pope, the CEO of Pope Golf, confirmed that it would reopen on April 21 but not enforce the “one player at a time” mandate from the city attorney, the Asheville Citizen-Times reported.
It’s the second time Asheville Muni has been closed and then reopened since the spread of coronavirus, the Citizen-Times reported. The course closed on March 23 and reopened April 9.
“In all honesty the city can’t mandate us to do more than what the governor has requested,” Pope said. “I can’t maintain the course without income, and if we go a month without people playing regularly, there might not be a course to reopen. We will continue to enforce social distancing and make sure our golfers are being safe.”
Asheville Muni had already enforced strict social-distancing rules before it closed on April 15, the Citizen-Timesreported. No golfers were allowed to share golf carts including family members.
But the city, which reserved the right to shut the course if it felt rules were not being followed, was not satisfied the course was meeting social-distancing requirements. On April 14, City Attorney Brad Branham e-mailed Pope with new guidelines that included limited entry into the clubhouse, more strict social distancing at the first tee, and a limit to one person on the tee boxes and the greens.
On April 15, the Citizen-Times reported, Pope said the course was already implementing the social-distancing rules and had no problem with those requirements, except for the “one player at a time” mandate, which he called “simply impractical and unworkable.” So decided to close down the course instead.
“We’re already losing 50 percent of our income because of the cart rules,” Pope said. “There is a misconception that golf courses are doing well, but everyone is struggling at this point.”
With the reopening, the Citizen-Times reported, Muni employees as well as city officials will now stay on the course during business hours to make sure social distancing is being enforced. But the golf course will not apply the “one player at a time” directive sent by Branham.
Asheville Muni sent an e-mail to its members on April 19, announcing that the course would reopen with a list of specific guidelines each golfer would have to follow, the Citizen-Times reported.
“There is a misconception from those who don’t play golf that people are crammed together,” Pope said. “But those who play know that it’s very easy to maintain social distancing. Our smallest green is about 3,000 square feet, which is bigger than most people’s houses.”
It’s a Go in Fargo
The Fargo (N.D.) Park District is opening select public courses with modified procedures due to COVID-19 concerns, ValleyNewsLive.com reported. The procedures were created with information from the Professional Golfers Association as well as the Center for Disease Control and state and local health officials. Every effort will be made to limit contact points and to ensure that everyone adheres to the recommended six feet of distancing.
To start the season, courses will open as walking only without rentals for golf carts, pull carts and clubs. Carts will be made available as turf conditions improve.
At opening, access to the individual clubhouses will be limited, including access to restrooms and food and beverage. The course’s restaurant partners may offer pickup or to-go food and beverage items; those decisions will be made by the individual restaurant partners.
To maintain social distancing and minimize contact points for customers and staff, golfers must reserve tee times in advance at FargoGolf.net or by calling the pro shop. No walk-ins will be accepted. Payment on the day of play is accepted before arrival over the phone by calling the pro shop, or online when the tee time is reserved. No cash will be accepted.
Intentional or deliberate failure to strictly adhere to the minimum of six feet distance rule and abide by all rules that are being established for play will make a player subject to expulsion from the course without a refund.
This schedule was set for the opening of Fargo golf courses:
Prairiewood Public Golf Course’s 9-hole course on Tuesday, April 21 at 12:00 p.m.
El Zagal Public Golf Course’s 9-hole course on Wednesday, April 22 at 9:00 a.m.
Rose Creek Public Golf Course’s 18-hole course on Wednesday, April 22 at 12:00 p.m.
Osgood Public Golf Course’s 9-hole course on Friday, April 24 at 10:00 a.m., if wind conditions allow for the removal of green covers.
Driving ranges were tentatively scheduled to open at Rose Creek, Osgood and Edgewood on Monday, April 27, with additional COVID-19 related procedures.
The opening of Edgewood Public Golf Course was not yet scheduled, due to cleanup and wet turf conditions. The Fargo Park District said it would continue to monitor course conditions in anticipation of announcing an opening date in the near future.
More Action in New York
Following the clarification of rules that paved the way for reopening of courses in New York state, Westchester County, N.Y. announced that it would reopen two of its public courses by the weekend of April 25-26.
Hudson Hills in Ossining and Mohansic in Yorktown will be the first to open, while Maple Moor in White Plains, Dunwoodie and Sprain Lake in Yonkers and Saxon Woods in Scarsdale will remain closed to golfers for now.
“We believe those courses are the best controlled environment of the six that we have,” County Executive George Latimer explained on April 20 during his daily briefing. “We can make sure that the social-distancing programs that we’re implementing—over and above the fact that a golf course is naturally socially distanced—will make it a safe place to be.
“We believe it’s been safe all along,” Latimer added. “We wanted to be consistent with the state policy. The state policy does not prohibit us from doing this, so we are making a decision to open those two golf courses.”
All six Westchester courses closed on April 11 when golf was added to the state’s list of non-essential businesses, according to the Empire State Development (ESD) Corporation, the state authority for determining essential and nonessential businesses during the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
The ESD the updated its guidance for golf, allowing golfers to use the courses provided most employees were not on the premises and that they walked and carried their own bags, without using a motorized cart. That prompted a reversal for several public courses and private clubs in the state.
Latimer indicated on April 20th that the county will observe Hudson Hills and Mohansic this weekend and then determine how to proceed with the other four courses based on the behavior demonstrated by golfers.
“We’re going to look for examples of social distancing and if it’s properly done,” Latimer said. “If not, that will inform our opinion before we deal with the other four courses.”
Putnam County Golf Course reopened on April 19th following the updated guidelines, and Somers National Golf Club followed suit on April 20th. There was no immediate word about the plans for Rye Golf Club or Lake Isle Country Club in Eastchester.
The region’s two highest-fee public courses, Pound Ridge Golf Club and Centennial Golf Club, both remained shuttered on April 20.
All public courses in Rockland County, N.Y. also remained closed on April 20 with the exception of Haverstraw’s Philip J. Rotella Golf Course, which never closed. Blue Hill and Broadacres Golf Courses in Orangetown closed April 7 and Rockland Lake in Congers and Spook Rock in Ramapo shut down two days later.
Patriot Hills Golf Club in Stony Point never opened for the season, citing concerns about the COVID-19 crisis.
Farther upstate, representatives from Hiland Park Country Club, Glens Falls Country Club, Bay Meadows Golf Course, Queensbury Country Club and Airway Meadows Golf Club all said they were very busy, aided by temperatures on April 19 in the low 60s, after the ESD’s revision of its guidelines, The Post-Star of Glens Falls, N.Y. reported.
Tom Haggerty, the golf pro at Glens Falls CC, said his course was able to accommodate between 30 and 40 players on April 18, 83 on April 19 and around 30 on April 20, The Post-Star reported.
The strong turnout on Sunday the 19th surprised Haggerty, The Post-Star reported, “because 60 to 70 percent of our membership usually ride a cart.”
Kelly Emrie, who runs the bar and golf desk at Bay Meadows, said some members grumbled about the walking-only requirement, The Post-Star reported. “We have a lot of elderly customers,” Emrie said. “It’s a lovely course to walk, but some don’t have the ability to. They’ve paid a lot of money to have those carts and now they can’t use them, so a lot of members are upset. Not everyone’s happy about it, but we’ve got to do our part.”
Debbie Smith, who co-owns Queensbury Country Club with her husband Scott, also said that “Carts are a problem,” The Post-Star reported.
“That’s a big chunk of our income, and people who can’t get around without them, it knocks a lot of people out of the equation,” Smith said.
Joan Heber, who co-owns Airway Meadows Golf Club with her husband James, estimates that 25 to 30 percent of her usual clientele uses carts, The Post-Star reported. But she was pleasantly surprised to see the number of 18-hole walkers on Sunday, April 19.
“I thought there would be more nine-hole rounds,” Heber said. “We sure don’t want to go through the whole summer [without carts], but we’re doing what we can.”
Jim Jeffers, the golf pro at Hiland Park CC, told The Post-Star that his club didn’t really have any outgoing social media message saying they’d be open, but the club managed to have nearly 130 rounds played on April 19.
That was a long, hard day for Jeffers, The Post-Star reported, because as non-essential businesses, golf courses in New York state, besides course maintenance staff, may currently only employ a pro/owner and security personnel to ensure that the rules are being followed.
“Right now I’m the pro, security guard and starter,” Jeffers said. “We have a skeleton crew of three [who are] working course maintenance. Once the grass starts growing, hopefully we’ll be able to hire those extra people back.”
Jeffers also admitted that losing motorized cart revenue is one more financial hit to courses, but he’s happy for what he can get, The Post-Star reported.
“If the trade-off is that we get some greens fee revenue, which we desperately need, then we’ll take it,” Jeffers said. “Obviously, a lot of our older population needs a cart; some have physical restrictions. But the walking allowance is better than nothing.
“We hope that other golf courses are also following all the guidelines, because we don’t want to see that being taken away from us again,” Jeffers added.
Haggerty and Heber said the golf courses are contacting their legislators and sending petitions to the state agencies asking them to ease more of the restrictions, The Post-Star reported, as they have already lost some league and tournament play, as well as in-person bar and restaurant sales.
For the time being, however, course operators said the golfers’ reactions were those of happiness.
“It’s good to see people out and playing golf again. People are noticeably in better spirits because of it, and I’m happy for them,” Jeffers said.
“They walked and obeyed all the rules,” Smith added. “Everybody was happy to be out.”
New Jersey Next?
Two Republican state lawmakers are asking Gov. Phil Murphy to allow golf courses in New Jersey to reopen amid the coronavirus pandemic, NJ.com reported.
State Sen. Steve Oroho and state Assemblyman Hal Wirths said in a joint statement on April 20 that golfing can safely resume if social distancing precautions are taken, NJ.com reported.
It is the latest push by Republicans seeking to convince Murphy, a Democrat, to modify or withdraw some of his stay-at-home executive orders.
The two lawmakers cited possible restrictions upon reopening, reportedly outlined by the New Jersey Golf Course Owners Association—from mandating golfers either walk or ride only one person per cart, to modifying driving ranges to endure proper distance and having staffers wear gloves and masks.
Golf “is a safe sport that gives people the opportunity to play outside in the fresh air and maintain social distancing,” Wirths said. “People can pay golf fees online, tee times can be staggered, and reasonable restrictions could allow the industry to start earning some money again while giving people a chance to play a sport they love.”
There are about 300 public and private golf courses in New Jersey, the two lawmakers said.
Tom Kearns, President of Riverton Country Club in Burlington County, said he supports reopening golf courses, NJ.com reported. Golfing at Riverton stopped March 22, one week after the restaurant closed, Kearns said, and the club has laid off about 60 full- and part-time employees.
“I have a lot more risk going to Walmart or the grocery story than going to the golf course. Walking along my neighborhood street is no different,” Kearns told NJ Advance Media on the night of April 20th.
Riverton, founded in 1900, has an 18-hole course.“You’re on over an acre of land per hole,” Kearns said. “We have tee boxes that are large enough that people can stand 10 feet apart. Normally you stand far apart from each other when putting anyway.”
Earlier on April 20, Murphy told reporters he will provide a “broad blueprint,” by week’s end, on how New Jersey will begin to reopen, NJ.com reported. In his press briefing that afternoon, Murphy reported that the number of patients hospitalized with coronavirus or suspected of being infected had declined. But he added: “There is one overriding principle. Personal health creates economic health. It can’t be the other way around.”
“What Are We Waiting For?”
Carlos Gimenez, Mayor of Miami-Dade County (Fla.), said he’s ready to implement detailed rules of conduct to allow parks, marinas and golf courses to reopen countywide, casting off concerns that the spread of coronavirus is still too risky to loosen restrictions, the Miami Herald reported.
The plan released by the Mayor on April 20 included a provision banning caddies on golf courses, the Herald reported. Gimenez hasn’t said when he plans to lift the March 19 order closing parks and golf courses, but he said to expect the announcement soon, and that the new rules would leave the approved outdoor activities in the low-risk category for COVID-19 spread.
“If it’s inherently safe, then what are we waiting for?” he said.
Feeling the Pinch
Golf operators in northern Illinois are poised to spring into action if Gov. JB Pritzker gives an OK to reopen, the Daily Chronicle of DeKalb, Ill. reported.
Currently, David Paeglow, Head Golf Pro at Kishwaukee Country Club in DeKalb, told the Daily Chronicle, it’s hard to look across the border at a state like Iowa and see that golf courses are open. And the feeling of being squeezed will tighten even further after golf courses in Wisconsin are allowed to reopen beginning April 24th.
“It’s just really frustrating when a state right next to us is operating a golf course and we’re shut down,” Paeglow said. “It’s tough.”
While there’s no word on whether the governor will ease restrictions on Illinois golf anytime soon, the Daily Chronicle reported, Paeglow and officials who operate courses for two area park districts all said they have plans in place to operate within social-distancing guidelines should the order be relaxed on golf courses.
Kishwaukee CC is operating as if golf will be one of the industries re-opened by the governor on May 1, Paeglow said, even though there’s been no indication one way or the other.
Sycamore Park District Golf Superintendent Kirk Lundbeck said there was no hard date he is planning for, but it wouldn’t take the course long to get up and running.
“I think with the limitations we can implement once the governor gives us the OK, we’ll be ready to go within a day,” Lundbeck said. “We’ve got a plan to be open within a day or two once we get the OK.”
Illinoisans have started to demand for golf courses to be reopened, the Daily Chronicle reported, through a Change.org petition with nearly 10,000 signatures that asks Pritzker to reopen golf courses.
“People want to play golf and we want them to play golf,” Lundbeck said. “It’s not just from the revenue standpoint. We want people on the golf course, we want people outside. That’s one of our goals at Sycamore Park District, to get people recreating and to stay healthy, rather than we all become couch potatoes.”
DeKalb Park District Superintendent of Golf Steven Moore said the same things would be in place for both theRiver Heights and Buena Vista courses if and when an order to reopen is made, the Daily Chronicle reported. The DeKalb golf courses are coming off a tumultuous 2019, after revenue operations put them in the red for the park district budget. Moore was hired as a result of efforts by the district to keep the courses open after public outcry.
“I think everyone wants the golf courses to open, but I don’t think it’s up to us,” Moore said. “It’s the coronavirus dictating what we can or can’t do. Like any business, we want to get back into doing what we do. We want everyone to start playing again, but unfortunately it’s not up to us.”
Pandemic Dooms Duluth’s Lester Park
Emily Larson, Mayor of Duluth, Minn., announced that the city will close Lester Park Golf Course, one of the city’s two municipal courses, for the summer as part of cost-cutting measures she is enacting in response to the toll that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic is taking on city finances, the Duluth News Tribune reported.
While Larson acknowledged the golf course closure will come as a disappointment for many, she noted that it has consistently operated at an annual loss of around $150,000, the News Tribune reported.
“Reducing 2020 golf operations from two golf courses to one is one of the best ways that we can preserve golf at all and manage a budget at the same time,” Larson said. “So this is just one of the many announcements that we’ll be making to try to preserve our general fund and also preserve essential services.”
Duluth’s other municipal golf course—Enger Park—expects to open its driving range on either April 22nd or 23rd, and 18 holes of the golf course should be ready for play by April 24, Larson said. Minnesota’s courses were opened after an order by Gov. Tim Walz on April 17th.
“I’m not ready to cancel summer yet, and I don’t think you are, either,” Larson said.