Confusion in America Over Whether Courses Should Be Open for Business
WHILE the rest of the world seems to know what it is doing when it comes golf-course closures, the picture in America, where there have been a scarcely-credible 50,000 deaths and rising, is incredibly confused. You would imagine that the entire country would be in lockdown, that golf would be last thing on anybody’s mind. The reality is something rather different.
As of the week ending April 19, 49% of courses in the country were open and that is going to increase to around 57%
More than 250m Americans are now under some kind of governmental stay at home orders in an effort to limit the spread of the coronavirus.
All but five states have told people to stay at home except for non-essential outings. To confuse matters still further, 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 golf courses, which in a number of cases have been given an exemption for public health reasons.
Unsurprisingly, there is no golf being played in and around New York area, which has the epicentre of the coronavirus outbreak in the USA. City officials have moved to clear up confusion, saying that while golf remains a non-essential business, private clubs can permit members walking-only access to golf courses.
We have all witnessed the extraordinary scenes of civil unrest in various cities around the country, with people demanding that they be allowed to go about their daily business again - and this without any evidence whatsoever that the government has the virus under any sort of control.
Golf courses in Minnesota were allowed to reopen on April 18 though many in the north of the state can't yet do so due to weather. Some parts of California are now allowing golf operations as an outdoor physical activity provided additional safety procedures are implemented.
Several other states have eased restrictions on golf and as warmer weather moves north, some have inquired how many more golf facilities are likely to open for play over the next few weeks as the remainder of the nation's northernmost golf facilities “officially” open for the season.
The majority of golf facilities in the south remain open for play, with more than 70% of courses open to players in states such as Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina.
And let’s not pretend things are perfect in the UK. There has to be something wrong when England Golf feels compelled to issue yet another statement on the closure of courses in England.
Jeremy Tomlinson, England Golf’s chief executive, writes: "Golf in England has never before faced so many difficult challenges and in such a short space of time as it has done since restrictions were put in place to combat the threat of COVID-19. The unprecedented, but necessary, decision to close golf courses from March 23 has had a profound effect on our game.
"This was not a call we took pleasure in making – however, it remains the correct and responsible decision during a global pandemic and at a time of national emergency. Throughout this period of disruption, however, England Golf has never shied away from facing this crisis head on by working for and on behalf of our clubs and counties. Much of this work has, necessarily, gone on quietly behind the scenes.
"Even though we took the decision to furlough the majority of our staff, a core workforce has remained to act on behalf of our stakeholders and champion golf’s cause while being respectful of the wider public health concerns. From the outset, we have worked in partnership with the other home unions, industry partners, The R&A and collaboratively with the PGA, BIGGA and GCMA on a number of golf-related matters. One example is the production of an ‘essential maintenance guide’ for greenkeepers in order that courses may be cared for at a level that will allow the game to return when it is safe to do so.
"We have also been proactive in our dealing with government and, in particular, the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport. Topics have included:
Making our view clear to the DCMS on the issue of public access to golf course land;
Lobbying government on the rateable value loophole that has prevented golf clubs potentially accessing funds.
"Of course, there remains a great appetite to discover the date when it may be safe for golf to return. England Golf will continue to work in support of government and with them to move towards that day. When golf does return, this great game of ours must be ready to do so in an organised and responsible manner."
As we all know, a tiny minority of golfers have chosen to ignore the rules and have been spotted playing - it goes against everything we have been told, and it is something that Tomlinson addresses, albeit indirectly:
"The enthusiasm for golf’s return after an enforced hiatus is to be embraced. However, it is important that everyone who loves the game is guided by the simple message – Play Safe, Stay Safe. England Golf will soon provide golf clubs with a series of guides to help plan the final steps on the journey back to playing the game. While we cannot yet circle a date in the diary, it is right to put in place a proper framework to allow golfers to tee it up at the appropriate time and with the necessary infrastructure already in place.
"The following areas will be covered:
- Golfer communications;
- Staff and volunteers;
- Ongoing business support;
- Facility and course management;
- Playing the game.
"It is realistic for golf clubs to expect restrictions on opening of facilities, requirements for social distancing and adaptations to the usual playing etiquette even after any easing of lockdown. Restarting the game on this basis will be a challenge. There is a key responsibility to balance the issue of public health while at the same time ensuring the vitality of our sport.
"Golf will play a prominent role in the nation’s sporting recovery – when the time is right. By working together, we can make sure this happens with our affiliated clubs and counties at the heart of the matter."
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