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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 Are Affecting Golf

by National Golf Foundation

April 2020

More than 200 million Americans are now under governmental stay at home orders in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.

A growing number of states, cities and counties have either instructed residents to stay at home except for non-essential outings or mandated the shutdown of all businesses not deemed essential during a crisis. The rules vary on what is considered “essential” from state-to-state — from governmental services, law enforcement and emergency services to grocery stores, banks, pharmacies, utilities and even golf courses, which in a number of cases are given an exemption for public health reasons.

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 may be allowed in some areas, the decision about whether to remain open is up to individual operators. (The information below is aided by research from the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America)

State Orders to Limit Coronavirus Spread

In some states with stay at home or non-essential orders in place, outside golf operations have been allowed to continue, meaning that golf can still be played subject to strict safety protocols. Those might include closed clubhouses, walking only or one rider per golf cart, online payment, raised cups, and the practice of social distancing with fellow players and course employees.

That’s currently the case in New York, where the New York State Golf Association and Metropolitan Golf Association have said that golf courses can be “open” for play, but access to other facilities is prohibited and golf operations staff, including pro shop employees, are not deemed “essential” based on the executive order and therefore shouldn’t be working.

“If clubs don’t feel comfortable having players on the course without staff available, the ‘lock the gates,’ option should be considered,” the associations said in a joint statement.

In neighboring 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.

Other states have cracked down on golf even though parks and other outdoor activities remain available to the public.

 

In Michigan, the governor’s office initially informed the Michigan Golf Alliance that courses can remain open for the sole purpose of golf, only to reverse course two days later and rule that golf course employees aren’t considered crucial infrastructure workers.

In Illinois, the governor’s executive order classified golf courses as “places of public amusement,” requiring them to be temporarily closed. On March 25, the Illinois Department of Commerce and Economic Opportunity amended that decision, meaning courses could open subject to a number of conditions, but another change the following day resulted in all courses in the state being shut down for the time being.

In California, the first state to institute a stay at home order, many local municipalities instituted an indoor/outdoor distinction that allowed play, but golf operations have since been suspended in metropolitan areas such as Los Angeles County, the City of Los Angeles and San Diego, primarily due to public opinion. A shrinking percentage of courses remain open in a state of 40 million residents and the second-most golf facilities in the nation, as local mandates continue to limit activities beyond walking, biking, running or hiking alone in the state’s parks and open spaces.

In almost all cases, 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.

 

“Spring is a critical time for turfgrass, and it cannot be neglected for an extended period or it will be lost, and the community will lose a vital asset,” the GCSAA said, noting that facilities also need to adhere to safety protocols such as social distancing, staggered work hours and equipment sanitization. “Golf courses provide many recreational and environmental benefits to the communities they serve, and continuing to maintain them during these unprecedented times will ensure they will be here when the crisis has ended.”

Florida, which has the most golf courses of any state, implemented a stay at home order on April 1 though it’s not yet clear how that affects golf course operations. Prior to the governor’s mandate, restrictions on non-essential businesses — including golf courses in some instances — were made at the local level, and play had been suspended in the state’s three biggest counties (Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach).

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.

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.

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

 

In Hawaii, all courses on Oahu have to suspend golf operations after Honolulu Mayor Kirk Caldwell ordered the closure of private clubs in addition to public facilities.

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.

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