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A Publication of the National Golf Foundation

Questions, Answers and Insights for Everyone Interested in the Business of Golf

How State Executive Orders Affect Where Golf Is Played

by National Golf Foundation

April 2020

More than 250 million Americans are under some kind of governmental stay at home orders in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

But restrictions on golf are being increasingly eased as states and counties look to provide safe outdoor activities for residents and plan for the reopening of additional businesses. Currently, only five states have a statewide ban on golf and a growing number — Michigan, Minnesota, Wisconsin, New York, Illinois, and now Pennsylvania, New Jersey, Washington, Nevada and Maine — have given the approval for play to resume in the past week or so.

The following table indicates which states have some kind of executive order that limits the movements and activities of residents, and how golf is affected. While play is allowed in most areas nationwide, the decision about whether to remain open is up to individual operators.

In states where golf is permitted, operations are subject to strict safety protocols. That typically includes closed clubhouses, walking only or one rider per golf cart, online payment, raised cups, the removal of high-touch items such as bunker rakes, leaving the flag in at all times, and the practice of social distancing with fellow players and course employees.

CLICK HERE for a list of safety protocols for golfers and employees

In Wisconsin and Michigan, golf operations were cleared to re-open April 24 with modified operations that include a walking-only provision.

In extending a “safer at home” order through May 26, Wisconsin Governor Tony Evers and the state’s Department of Health on April 16 made specific exceptions for golf as well as public parks and open space in the “places of public amusement and activity” category. Michigan made a similar exception under its revised stay at home order, saying golf is allowed as long as it is “consistent with sound social distancing.”

Illinois announced on April 23 that its courses will be able to reopen on May 1. Like Wisconsin and Michigan, Illinois courses will be walking-only and the state is also limiting groups to a maximum of two players rather than a standard foursome.

Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said on April 27 that the approximately 700 courses in his state will be permitted to open starting May 1 to help residents focus on “physical and mental health during these extraordinary times.” Washington Governor Jay Inslee also cited the physical, emotional and mental benefits of the game in announcing that golf would be able to make a return on May 5.

 

Governors in New Jersey and Maine have also given golf courses in their states approval to reopen.

Minnesota allowed its golf courses to reopen on April 18, adding the game to an expanded list of allowable outdoor activities. The amended 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.

In New York, which is home to more than 85o golf courses from Long Island to the most northernmost upstate regions, a recently-updated executive order indicated that golf is not an essential business. Yet the latest guidance suggests facilities can allow golfers walking-only access with strict safety measures in place and that employees such as a golf professional and/or starter could be present not for purposes of golf operations, but only as designated security personnel to enforce social distancing rules.

 

California was first state to invoke some form of stay-at-home order and golf operations were quickly suspended in major metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles and San Diego.

Although there was no statewide ban on golf, play continued on primarily only in small pockets in Sacramento and San Luis Obispo counties. As of the week of April 20, however, modified golf operations have begun to resume in places like Ventura, Riverside, Placer, Napa, Stanislaus, Orange, San Bernadino and San Luis Obispo counties.

In all cases in which an executive order restricts play, golf facilities are permitted to continue limited maintenance operations to ensure the upkeep and care of courses, given they are a living ecosystem with an average footprint of about 150 acres. The Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and other leading industry associations continue to work with state and local officials to ensure maintenance is allowed to proceed when public golf operations are shut down.

Morning maintenance on Florida golf course temporarily closed to golfers.

 

Florida, which has the most golf courses of any state, implemented its stay-at-home order on April 1, but it doesn’t affect course operations statewide. Play remains temporarily suspended in two of the state’s biggest counties — Miami-Dade and Broward — but Palm Beach County is allowing play to resume at all public and private courses starting April 29.

In Arizona, where Governor Doug Ducey has stipulated that cities, towns, and counties coordinate and be consistent with advice from the state’s health department. As part of his executive order, however, Ducey included golf courses on an expansive list of essential services that cities and counties are prohibited from closing down. As a result, more than 80% of courses remain open.

In South Carolina, where there’s no state-wide stay at home mandate, initial reports indicated that golf courses in Myrtle Beach had to be closed for at least two weeks. The City of Myrtle Beach later amended that order, saying courses could stay open, but only to local players. Statewide, more than 85% of golf courses remain open to play.

Golfers on the first tee at Blackmoor in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, on March 29, 2020. (Photo credit: Larry Fine)

 

In Ohio, the state’s Department of Health has said that golf courses can remain open as an outside recreation opportunity if golfers comply with proper social distancing requirements, but that the final decision on outside operations (play) rests with individual counties.

In Connecticut, play is permitted subject to restrictions, including strict social distancing rules with fellow players and course employees, and some municipalities have temporarily shut down courses that couldn’t follow those mandates.

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