The tee sheet at Naga-Waukee War Memorial Golf Course in Pewaukee was filled from 9 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. Wednesday. Tom Halla, the course manager, planned to open and get ready for an onslaught of golfers on a day when the temperature was forecast to reach the mid-50s.
Then he read the story posted on Wisconsin.Golf that golf courses statewide had to close to comply with the “Safer at Home” order that Gov. Tony Evers signed Tuesday.
“When I read your post this morning,” Halla said, when asked when he realized the popular Waukesha County course wouldn’t be able to open. “We were planning on still going. My boss said this morning, ‘We’re going to be open until we get word from the governor.’ I forwarded your post to him.
“That was it. I locked the gate. And here we are.”
Halla said he was taking so many calls from frustrated golfers that he asked an assistant to take over.
“I’m going to lose my voice,” he said. “People are clueless as far as what’s going on. I’m getting, ‘What do you mean, you’re closed?’ They’ve been overwhelmingly supportive, but there’s always one guy who has to vent: ‘You guys don’t know what you’re doing.’ ”
Like many golf course operators, Halla was frustrated by the confusion over the wording in Evers’ order, which closed businesses and gathering places that aren’t considered essential to try to slow the spread of coronavirus. The order allowed for outdoor activities such as hiking, biking and running but did not specify golf other than wording that “country clubs” must close.
Later Tuesday, however, Evers addressed golf in a FAQ and removed any ambiguity about the order: “Golf courses are not considered essential businesses. Staff can perform minimum basic operations as defined in the order.”
Unless it is amended or lifted, the 30-day order mandates that golf courses must remain closed until April 24. Wisconsin is one of just five states to restrict golf as part of COVID-19 governmental action, according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America.
“You can be safe (playing golf),” Halla said. “You can be totally safe. Just give people a little bit of hope.”
Dan Plens, the head PGA golf professional at Bristol Oaks Golf Club in Bristol, said he had to turn away golfers who showed up at the course Wednesday morning.
“They’re really devastated, to tell you the truth,” he said. “People look at us that it’s our fault. “
In Illinois, Gov. J.B. Pritzker's stay-at-home order last Friday initially included golf courses but was amended Tuesday to allow courses to reopen under certain guidelines.
“Before, Illinois closed its courses and we were open,” Plens said. “Now, they’re open and we’re not.”
In Beaver Dam, Old Hickory Golf Club had scheduled its opening date for Wednesday, which made the order to close especially frustrating for owners Ryan and Kelsey Stray, who purchased the course late last summer.
“Today was the day we were targeting,” Ryan Stray said. “Kind of bizarre that it fell this way. We’ve gotten a lot of calls. Unfortunately, we’ve been telling people it’s pretty fluid and to keep calling back. Our members are itching, obviously, to get out there. At this point it’s all about communication. We’re taking it day by day and hour by hour.
“It’s impactful to our staff, as well. We’re going to keep all our essential people here.”
Stray said Old Hickory’s only source of revenue was to-go food, “and that’s pretty minimal in our scope.”
“It’s kind of painful,” he said, “but you take it one day at a time. It’s sad because we had poor weather last fall. Now, we have great weather in the spring but we have another hurdle to get through. To have good weather this time of year is a blessing, so it’s frustrating we can’t take advantage of it.
“It’s pushing through, trudging along until somebody says, ‘OK, you can open.’ Whenever that happens, we’ll be ready.”