Massachusetts was the “final domino” to fall.
A day after Maryland and Vermont gave their golf courses the green light to reopen, Massachusetts followed suit on May 7 by allowing all 375 of its golf courses to resume operations immediately.
Another noteworthy development is Los Angeles County — the most populous in California — clearing the way for more than 100 golf courses to resume operations on May 8. With that decision, golf was able to be played last weekend in all 58 counties throughout California, which has the second-most golf courses of any U.S. state.
Eight other states had already allowed play to resume since the start of the month, a continuation of the golf course reopening trend that began in late April. Between them, Illinois, Pennsylvania, Nevada, Maine, New Mexico, Hawaii, New Jersey and Washington have more than 2,400 golf courses. New Hampshire was the last state to allow golf to restart, permitting its approximately 70 courses to reopen starting May 11.
Golf has always been well-positioned to be among the first businesses and activities to resume during this time of crisis – provided operational modifications and safeguards for golfers and golf course employees are in place. That’s been clearly evidenced recently as more states and counties have eased up on restrictions in concert with slowing coronavirus growth rates and the public’s improved adherence to accepted social distancing practices.
While state and local jurisdictions seek to continue to limit the spread of the coronavirus, bans on golf have been almost completely eased as government leaders look to provide safe, healthy outdoor activities for residents and plan for the reopening of additional public spaces and parts of the economy.
During this era of required social distancing, the essence of golf is what’s made it an appealing activity to reintroduce, offering a safe escape for local residents amid an anxious and uncertain time.
Golf looks a bit different in the COVID-19 age, with operations subject to strict safety protocols. While these safeguards can vary significantly from state to state, they typically include closed clubhouses, walking only or one rider per golf cart, online payment, take-out food only, raised cups, the removal of high-touch items such as bunker rakes, leaving the flag in at all times, and the now-common practice of social distancing with fellow players and course employees.
Minnesota started the reopening trend on April 18, with Wisconsin and Michigan clearing the way for golf to resume on April 24, with the exclusion of golf carts in some cases.
Illinois took it a step further, saying golf could return if it was walking-only and if groups were limited to two players instead of the customary foursome. Between them, those four states in and around the Great Lakes boast more than 2,600 courses — approximately the same number as all of Canada.
Pennsylvania Governor Tom Wolf said on April 27 that the approximately 700 courses in his state would be permitted to open 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 his decision.
New Jersey, like Illinois, has limited groups to only two golfers, but is permitting carts while requiring tee times to be spread 16 minutes apart. Like many states, the rule in the Garden State stipulates that only one rider is permitted per cart, unless they’re from the same household.
In Los Angeles County, golf won’t return with the rigid restrictions seen in some other California counties. Groups of four players are permitted, as are single-rider carts, driving ranges, private lessons and beverage carts. Tee times have to be spread at least 10 minutes apart and the now-standard touchless hole is mandatory.
In Massachusetts, the final state to lift its ban, the restrictions are not unlike those in New York, as golf courses aren’t considered an “essential business.”
As a result, only essential services such as groundskeeping and security are permitted, but operators can allow golfers access to the property as long as there are no gatherings of any kind, appropriate social distancing of six feet between individuals is strictly followed, and the business operator and golfers abide by the specific guidelines for golf courses. As part of the guidelines, golf facilities can designate certain employees (the head pro and a starter, for example) as security personnel who are permitted to be present to enforce social distancing. Clubhouses and golf shops must remain closed, no carts can be used and tee times have to be spread apart by at least 15 minutes.
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