Golf + The Coronavirus
April 29, 2020

Here's a state-by-state breakdown of where golf's allowed and where it isn't

State-wide stay-home executive orders in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic might have you confused about whether golf is or isn’t allowed where you live or even near where you live. But with recent changes, only Massachusetts has a ban on golf being played with no specific timetable for that to change. As a result, the National Golf Foundation predicts that 90 percent of courses will be open across the U.S. by May 17. (Combined with research by the NGF, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America and local reports, this list is updated on a daily basis and as stories and changes develop with states' executive orders with respect to golf, we will monitor it and update our list below accordingly. There have been more than a dozen changes or modifications in the last week alone.)

Just in the last 10 days, several of the 17 states that initially had shuttered golf courses, began reopening the game to players with strict social distancing and CDC guidelines in place. That includes several states that will reopen golf courses for play this week that have been banned since March. Announcements in the last few days have come from Illinois, Washington, Pennsylvania, Nevada and New Jersey, where Gov. Phil Murphy reopened the state's parks and golf courses, beginning on May 2. "This will bring us in line, broadly speaking, with our neighboring states," Murphy said. "I did not want to see us in a situation where residents would be needlessly crossing state lines in either direction. To be clear, we cannot have everyone rush out to a park or golf course. Social distancing will be strongly enforced, and we expect golf course personnel to enforce this requirement." New Jersey's guidelines for golf were stern, including tee times 16 minutes apart which might be double what they were at some courses and twosomes only unless the group involved immediate family members or similar. "If we don’t like what we see, I hate to say this, I reserve the right to reverse the Executive Order that I’m signing today," Murphy said Wednesday.

Maine, too, just announced that courses will open in the state as part of Gov. Janet Mills phased plan of businesses reopening. Courses will open Friday, and that was met with instant interest from that state's golfers. “We’re excited we’re finally going to be able to open. The phone is ringing off the hook,” Dan Hourihan, the general manager and owner of Nonesuch River Golf Club in Scarborough told the Portland Press Herald. Neighboring New Hampshire has announced it will open courses to residents and members of clubs on May 11.

Vermont announced Wednesday that its courses were free to open within 24 hours to Vermont residents with 15-minute tee times. Maryland will open its courses, which have been closed since March 23, on Thursday beginning at 7 a.m.

Despite the restrictions of the reopenings and even the fast turnarounds from being closed to open, it still might be even better news than expected. While courses have been closed, superintendents have generally been allowed to maintain courses. It's minimal maintenance, but without the effects of golfers and, most especially, carts, plus with slightly raised mowing heights, there have been benefits to the delayed opening. That could be an extra surprise for eager golfers, according to Shelia Finney, senior director of member programs with the GCSAA.

"They've been able to keep up with minimal maintenance, they're still keeping up with mowing, so even though they've not been maintaining the way they would with normal play, I think the courses are going to be in fantastic condition when they open back up," she said. "No ball marks, no divots, no carts, for sure. I think they will be able to transition from minimal maintenance to getting the course back into very playable conditions really quickly. Certainly better than you might be thinking. Now, it's not going to be Augusta National, but you won't be walking onto a goat ranch where the fairway grass is going to be six inches tall. That will not be the case at all. You're going to have really good dense turfgrass coverage."

According to Nevada's KTVN, one course, Sierra Sage, estimated it lost more than $200,000 in revenue during the 22-day closure, but because of minimal maintenance, it was ready for golfers this past weekend. "We only took Easter off and the golf course, I think shows. It's the best it's been in a long time," said Mike Mazzaferri, head professional.

The language in most executive orders from state governors’ offices was rarely specific to golf, and only after direct contact by state golf association leaders did states often clarify the situation. For now, only five states still have banned golf being played by classifying golf courses as “non-essential businesses” with no projected opening date (California, Maryland, Massachusetts, New Hampshire and Vermont). Wisconsin opened courses April 24 under social distancing guidelines, and Minnesota's governor opened up golf courses along with certain other recreational activities after his mid-day announcement on April 17. According to the Minneapolis Star-Tribune, once the order was revised to allow public golf courses to open, one course booked 213 golfers in 43 minutes over the lunch hour.

Another change happened with an updated provision in Michigan's executive order. Gov. Gretchen Whitmer. The new language allows golf under a provision broadening outdoor recreational activities. "We can now start the process of gradually resuming in-person work and activities that were temporarily suspended under my prior orders," the document now reads. "But in doing so, we must move with care, patience, and vigilance, recognizing the grave harm that this virus continues to inflict on our state and how quickly our progress in suppressing it can be undone."

The specific wording applying to golf states, "Individuals may leave their home or place of residence, and travel as necessary: To engage in outdoor recreational activity, consistent with remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household. Outdoor recreational activity includes walking, hiking, running, cycling, boating, golfing, or other similar activity...."

Illinois will open its golf courses for twosomes (walking only) starting on May 1. More counties in California are opening to golf, Miami-Dade County in Florida is relaxing its golf ban, and golf courses in Pennsylvania will now reopen this Friday after being shut down by Gov. Tom Wolf March 19. The state of Washington will allow golf in twosomes only (foursomes within the same family) beginning on May 5, but Gov. Jay Inslee cautioned that the change would be assessed weekly.

"If we see a sharp uptake in the number of people who are getting sick or are not following appropriate steps, then we won’t hesitate to scale this back again," he said. "This is not a return to normal. This is only a beginning phase of relaxing outdoor recreation restrictions.”

Meanwhile, a change in New York, which itself has had more coronavirus cases than any country in the world outside of the U.S., the governor's executive order language now provides an opening for golf courses with "private operators" to permit individuals "access to the property so long as there are no gatherings of any kind and appropriate social distancing of six feet between individuals is strictly abided." The order still restricts golf courses as non-essential businesses and prevents them from allowing employees "working on-premise," aside from maintenance and security.

According to the National Golf Foundation, which has been monitoring golf course openings during the coronavirus, more than half of the nation's golf courses are now open during the pandemic. With the changes in the latest group of states, which was not part of the latest research, that number could reach 77 percent in the next few weeks. Still, the return to play is not a complete solution for the golf course business.

"While course openings are increasing, restrictions on pro shops, cart usage and [food and beverage] operations will result in lower overall revenue per round for operators," said Joe Beditz, president and CEO of the National Golf Foundation. "For some, this reduction in revenue could be very challenging. This is a reminder that while news of golf continuing to gain traction as a safe and healthy activity is encouraging, the industry is not out of the woods yet—by any means."

In some cases, courses, clubs or resorts (such as Bandon Dunes in Oregon which is closed through May 9, for the moment) have opted to pause operations even if their states haven’t mandated it. As David Phipps, the GCSAA’s Northwest field staff representative, put it, “It’s been a rollercoaster ride trying to keep track of all these executive orders across my region.” Recognize, as well, that several states are requiring non-residents to self-quarantine for a stretch of time (typically 14 days) upon arrival or even disallowing short-term rentals (like a condo for a golf trip, for example), so heading across state lines from a no-play state to an open-play state might not always work out the way you planned.

The GCSAA has been monitoring the shifting directives from states on whether golf courses should be characterized as non-essential businesses or as an acceptable outdoor activity with proper social distancing. Officials and state golf associations have even had to check whether courses can be maintained when there is a public ban on golf. A GCSAA letter being sent to state leaders across the country calls out specifically the challenges with leaving a closed golf course without regular maintenance.

“Spring is a critical time for turfgrass,” the letter reads. “If turfgrass is lost, many courses may face permanent closure. Turfgrass cannot be neglected for extended periods of time.” The letter also cites that the decline of course maintenance could lead to vandalism and “the landscape and property of a golf course could become compromised, damaged or unsafe.” The letter indicates that proper maintenance also reduces the threat of “disease carrying pests, including ticks and mosquitoes.”

Here’s the current state-by-state assessment, from GCSAA research and other reports (Just a reminder that this listing is very fluid and is in no way a legally binding document. It's best to check with your local and state authorities on the most current situation, and your local course specifically, as county or city rules may supersede any state order) :

ALABAMA
Governor Directive: Is golf open for play?: Yes
Governor Directive: Is golf course maintenance allowed?: Yes

ALASKA
Golf open for play?: Pending
Course maintenance allowed?: Pending

ARIZONA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

ARKANSAS
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

CALIFORNIA
Golf open for play?: No (But many counties open for play)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

COLORADO
Golf open for play?: Yes (County health departments determine whether golf can be played)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

CONNECTICUT
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

DELAWARE
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

FLORIDA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

GEORGIA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

HAWAII
Golf open for play?: Yes (Oahu and Maui closed to play; voluntary closures)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

IDAHO
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

ILLINOIS
Golf open for play?: Yes (courses to open May 1)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

INDIANA
Golf open for play?: Yes (Howard County bans play)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

IOWA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

KANSAS
Golf open for play?: Yes (some cities preventing play)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

KENTUCKY
Golf open for play?: Yes (some municipalities closing courses)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

LOUISIANA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

MAINE
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

MARYLAND
Golf open for play?: Yes (courses open May 7)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

MASSACHUSETTS
Golf open for play?: No
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes (town boards may restrict maintenance)

MICHIGAN
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

MINNESOTA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Pending

MISSISSIPPI
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

MISSOURI
Golf open for play?: Yes (check with local authorities)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

MONTANA
Golf open for play?: Yes (some courses closing)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

NEBRASKA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

NEVADA
Golf open for play?: Yes Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

NEW HAMPSHIRE
Golf open for play?: No (courses to open May 11)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

NEW JERSEY
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

NEW MEXICO
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

NEW YORK
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

NORTH CAROLINA
Golf open for play?: Yes (consult local authorities for restrictions)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

NORTH DAKOTA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

OHIO
Golf open for play?: Yes (consult local health department as interpretations of executive order vary)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

OKLAHOMA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

OREGON
Golf open for play?: Yes (voluntary closures, including Bandon Dunes)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

PENNSYLVANIA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

RHODE ISLAND
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

SOUTH CAROLINA
Golf open for play?: Yes (Myrtle Beach is open for residents only)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

SOUTH DAKOTA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

TENNESSEE
Golf open for play?: Yes (state park courses closing; Shelby and Sevierville County courses closed)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

TEXAS
Golf open for play?: Yes (counties may restrict play)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

UTAH
Golf open for play?: Yes (cities may restrict play)
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

VERMONT
Golf open for play?: Yes (Courses open May 7)
Course maintenance allowed?: Pending

VIRGINIA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

WASHINGTON
Golf open for play?: Yes Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

WEST VIRGINIA
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes

WISCONSIN
Golf open for play?: Yes Course maintenance alloWed?: Yes

WYOMING
Golf open for play?: Yes
Course maintenance allowed?: Yes



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