Over the past several weeks, NGF’s research staff has been conducting nationwide surveys to objectively assess the impact of the coronavirus on golf course operations.
The latest findings (as of the week ending April 19) show that approximately 49% of golf courses are currently open nationwide, an estimate that includes both in-season regions where facilities have temporary suspended golf operations due to the coronavirus and a few northernmost parts of the U.S. where play has not yet begun due to weather.
In previous weeks, those figures were 46%, 44% and 48%, respectively, with a sampling margin of error of +/- 3%. The above map reflects the operating status of more than one-third of the nation’s golf facilities and accounts for the most nationally representative sample of courses currently available, one that includes daily fee, private, municipal, resort and residential communities. In total, the ongoing survey has aggregated more than 6,000 unique facility verifications.
The latest findings were conducted just before or as restrictions on golf operations were eased in several parts of the country.
Minnesota was given the go-ahead to re-open golf courses on April 18, while Wisconsin updated its executive order to allow walking-only golf starting April 24. Illinois became the latest state to follow suit, announcing on April 23 that its golf courses can reopen — also with no carts — starting May 1.
On a warm and sunny Saturday — the first day Minnesota golf courses were allowed to open since the statewide shutdown began — players practiced social distancing as part of the "new normal." https://t.co/dQml6Z1Iic
— Star Tribune (@StarTribune) April 19, 2020
In New York, a recent state ruling says that golf isn’t considered an essential business, yet operations continue at many of the state’s 850 courses.
Under the latest guidance provided by Empire State Development, golf courses can’t have employees working on-site except for groundskeeping and security purposes — both essential services that can provided by employees, vendors or contractors. In addition, “private operators” may permit individuals access to the property as long as there are no gatherings of any kind and appropriate social distancing measures are “strictly abided.”
When the New York State Club Association asked the state for clarification on the language, it was determined that private operators (not necessarily just private clubs) can’t have any employees working the recreational component of the golf operation, but can designate security personnel — such as a golf professional and a starter, for example — to enforce social distancing. Club houses, pro shops and locker rooms must be closed, no golf carts or caddies are permitted, and social distancing is mandatory at all times.
In the Pacific region, the percentage of openings continues to creep upwards as several counties in California, among them Riverside, Ventura, Placer, Napa, Stanislaus and Orange, opted to allow courses to re-open at their discretion as an outdoor activity provided extensive safety procedures are implemented.
“We are positioned to focus on the road to reopening because our residents and businesses have sacrificed so much to comply with the Public Health Orders and slow the spread of the virus in our community,” said Ventura County CEO Mike Powers.
NGF researchers also continue to examine the percentage of open courses by region, without seasonal designations.
The majority of golf facilities in the South remain open for play, with the incremental week-over-week drop within the survey’s margin of error.
Notably, there was no significant drop in the past week in the number of open courses in the South Central. The previous week, the number of courses in Texas that suspended operations increased fairly significantly after Governor Greg Abbott said golf was a non-essential business, although he later clarified that courses can allow play provided they maintain safe distancing practices and adhere to adjusted operational guidelines prescribed the CDC.
The biggest jump in course openings last week was in the Midwest region, even with the majority of polling conducted before Minnesota golf courses were given approval to re-open. The state’s updated executive order allows state residents to engage in golf — as well as activities like boating, fishing, hunting and hiking — as long as they maintain six feet of distance from others, avoid crowded places and stay near their homes.
The percentage of course openings in the East North Central Region (Michigan, Ohio, Illinois, Indiana and Wisconsin) will likely increase further in the coming week as Wisconsin’s updated order will allow almost 550 public and private courses to open. Under Wisconsin’s updated order, issued by Governor Tony Evers and the Department of Health, all golfers playing at the state’s courses must walk, with the use of golf carts prohibited among the operational restrictions in place.
Illinois, meanwhile, has more than 650 courses that can open as the calendar turns to May, provided they follow strict safety guidelines provided by the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity and ensure that social distancing is followed.
For more in-depth research and insight on the coronavirus impact on the golf industry, click here to visit the NGF’s webpage for special COVID-19 updates.
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