Golf flag

Other than staying in your house and having no contact with another human being, nothing is 100 percent failsafe when it comes to avoiding the coronavirus.

Some activities, however, are safer than others. You run a low risk of contracting COVID-19 if you jog, hike in a park, walk your dog, bike, fish or hunt, as long as you practice social distancing.

Golfers believe their sport fits somewhere on the high end of the safety spectrum, too, and many are frustrated and angry that Gov. Tony Evers ordered courses and practice facilities throughout Wisconsin to close until April 24 as part of the Safer at Home order he signed Tuesday.

Some took to social media to blast Evers’ decision to make golf off-limits and Jeff Schwister, executive director of the Golf Course Owners of Wisconsin, spoke for many when he said, “There’s more danger of me going into a Kwik Trip and catching the virus than there is of me catching it on a golf course.”

According to the National Golf Course Owners Association, golf courses were open in 35 states and six Canadian provinces as of Wednesday. In 10 states where nonessential businesses were closed, as is the case in Wisconsin, golf was still being played.

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

For now, Wisconsin remains somewhat of an outlier, though Evers could amend or lift the order as it pertains to golf. If boat launches, bike shops and state parks can remain open, state golfers wonder, why can’t they walk 18 holes at their favorite course?

“We certainly understand that the health and well-being of everyone is the most important thing, but we think golf can be played safely,” said Rob Jansen, executive director of the Wisconsin State Golf Association, which oversees amateur golf in the state and has 360 member clubs. “That’s the point we’re trying to make. Other states have obviously felt that golf can continue to be played safely, as well, without being a public health risk.”

Wisconsin golf courses and golfers are not taking Evers’ order lying down. Schwister drafted a letter encouraging courses to contact their state legislators and the governor’s office and has emailed it to the 125 GCOW member courses. Many, he noted, already have done it on their own.

On its Facebook page, Evergreen Country Club in Elkhorn is urging golfers to call their state legislators and/or the Department of Health Services – and is providing the phone numbers – to advocate for the reopening of courses.

As of 7 p.m. Thursday, more than 25,000 people had signed a “Let Wisconsin Golf” petition on change.org, urging Evers to reopen courses, with provisions such as payment must take place electronically, clubhouses must remain closed, no motorized carts are allowed and rules of social distancing must be followed.

“We’re actively working on (persuading Evers to reconsider) through all the channels we have available to us – directly reaching out to the governor’s office, working through the WEDC as recommended in the press release by Gov. Evers to clarify questions from businesses,” Jansen said. “We’ve heard of golfers working through their state representatives to state their case as well. Certainly, we’re pointing to other states in similar situations that have allowed golf to be continued to be played under certain guidelines, and hoping that similar consideration can be given here in Wisconsin.

“We’ve been fielding a lot of calls. I’ve been responding to a lot of emails, as well. I’m getting back to everybody as fast as I possibly can. There’s nothing more important on my to-do list right now than advocating on behalf of the golf industry.”

GCSAA list of state-by-state action regarding golf during COVID-19 pandemic

State Course
Open?
Maintenance
Allowed?
Local considerations?
Alabama Yes Yes
Alaska Pending Pending
Arizona Yes Yes Preempted by state
Arkansas Yes Yes
California No Yes Some areas open for play; contact the city or county for restrictions. (The surrounding 5 S.F Bay area counties named golf specifically as banned until May 3rd. Maintenance is still allowed with social distancing.)
Colorado CO is open for play, but it is up to each county health department whether golf is allowed to play. Yes Tri County closed for play; maintenance allowed
Connecticut Yes Yes
Delaware Yes Yes
Florida Yes Yes City/Country restrictions may impact play. Check with local authorities.
Georgia Yes Yes Stay at home orders upcoming in Savannah and parts of Atlanta
Hawaii Yes Yes Big Island remains open; Maui, Kauai, Oahu closed to play.
Idaho Yes Yes
Illinois No Yes Local considerations
Indiana Yes Yes Howard County golf courses are closed for play; maintenance may continue
Iowa Yes Yes Check with local authorities for further guidelines
Kansas Yes Yes Some cities are preventing play; seeking clarification on maintenance
Kentucky Yes Yes Some local municipalities are closing courses for play.
Louisiana Yes Yes
Maine No Yes
Maryland No Yes
Massachusetts No Yes Town Boards of Health may restrict maintenance
Michigan No Golf courses may designate workers whose in-person presence is strictly necessary to conduct minimum basic operations and done in accordance with the mitigation measures required under section 10 of the order. Please contact local police departments to work collectively on allowable personnel and practices.
Minnesota Yes Yes
Mississippi Yes Yes
Missouri Yes Yes Check with local authorities
Montana Yes Yes
Nebraska Yes Yes
Nevada No Yes
New Hampshire No Yes
New Jersey No Yes
New Mexico No Yes
New York No Yes
North Carolina Yes Yes Consult local authorities for specific restrictions
North Dakota Yes Yes
Ohio Yes Yes Contact local health department as interpretations from the EO have varied.
Oklahoma Yes Yes
Oregon Yes Yes
Pennsylvania No Yes
Rhode Island Yes Yes
South Carolina Yes Yes (Horry County – open for play and maintenance); City of Myrtle Beach is open for play for residents only; seeking clarification on maintenance)
South Dakota Yes Yes Local restrictions may be forthcoming; Rapd City open for play/maintenance
Tennessee Yes Yes Golf courses in the Tennessee State Parks will be closed until April 9; Shelby County (Memphis) and Sevierville city courses are closed but maintenance is allowed
Texas Yes Yes Counties may restrict play (Harris County – open for play and maintenance; Dallas County – still seeking clarification)
Utah Yes Yes Cities may restrict play
Vermont No Yes
Virginia Yes Yes
Washington No Yes
West Virginia Yes Yes
Wisconsin No Yes Dunn, Washington County courses open; courses statewide will re-open April 24
Wyoming Yes Yes

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