Washington golf courses will be allowed to reopen May 5 as long as course officials and golfers follow specific guidelines, Gov. Jay Inslee announced Monday.
“We are so excited,” said Troy Andrew, executive director of Washington Golf. “It’s great to be getting golf back.”
Inslee also outlined the partial reopening of other recreational activities, including hunting and fishing, during a news conference Monday in Olympia. They have been shut down to slow the spread of COVID-19.
“Outdoor recreation is one of the best things we can do to promote physical, mental and emotional well-being for Washingtonians during a time of great stress and isolation,” Inslee said in a statement. “And springtime in our state is Washington at its best and people want to be out enjoying outdoor activities in a safe and responsible way.
“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. This is not a return to normal. This is only a beginning phase of relaxing outdoor recreation restrictions.”
Washington Golf also released a statement: “Golf courses must comply with COVID-19 worksite-specific safety practices, as outlined in Gov. Jay Inslee’s “Stay Home, Stay Healthy” Proclamation 20-25, and in accordance with the Washington State Department of Labor and Industries General Coronavirus Prevention Under Stay Home-Stay Healthy Order (DOSH Directive 1.70) and the Washington State Department of Health Workplace and Employer Resources & Recommendations.”
Of the many guidelines listed, the most notable will be the limit of two people per group instead of threesomes or foursomes for each tee time. The only exception: If all the people are from the same household, a foursome is acceptable.
“We’ll be playing in twosomes for a while, except for when a foursome is all one household,” Inslee said when discussing the golf guidelines. “You can only play golf with one person outside your own household, and you still need to socially distance.”
Andrew said he hopes that guideline of twosomes only will be relaxed within a week or two after the reopening. Most states allow foursomes under certain regulations.
“We were hoping for foursomes, because you can social distance by having separate carts,” he said. “Operationally, it’s just better for golf courses. On the document of the requirements, there’s a phrase at the top that says, ‘assessed weekly.’ We pushed for that. It was going to be assessed every two to three weeks, but now it’s every week. I hope within a week or two we might be able to commence with foursomes not all from the same household.”
The Golf Alliance of Washington, which encompasses Washington Golf, the Pacific Northwest section of the Professional Golfers’ Association, the Western Washington and Inland Empire chapters of the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, and the Evergreen Chapter of the Club Managers Association of America, had lobbied in the past weeks for the reopening of golf when the most recent shelter-in-place order expires May 4.
The lobbying from the group, plus a push from golfers around the state and then the data made it all possible.
“We had a pretty good connection to the governor’s office early, so we were getting a lot of responses and good feedback,” Andrew said. “It was just obvious that it was too early to make any big decisions, and he wasn’t comfortable with it, for all the reasons he says in his press conferences — the data and things like that. Over the last few weeks, we kept checking in and checking and it was finally, ‘OK, talk to us a little more about this.’ And that opened up the floodgates for us to put together some guidelines.”
Any course planning to reopen May 5 or later must comply to a lengthy set of guidelines that were developed by the governor’s office, most of them suggested by the The Golf Alliance of Washington, and sent to the courses around the state. Some changes are logical and are being used in other states where golf has been played the past few weeks.
“There were a lot of resources,” Andrew said. “We’ve pulled from a lot of other associations. Oregon being our neighbor, we pulled a lot from them.”
They aren’t drastic, but just different to eliminate touching common surfaces, such as leaving the flagstick in at all times or having the cups set in the ground upside down so the ball can’t go to the bottom of the hole on putts.
“Literally, up until a half-hour before his meeting they were being finalized,” Andrew said. “We had to go through the Department of Health and the Department of Labor, because there were some things in there regarding employees and their health. They added some things in there, but we came up with the golf recommendations and worked directly with (Inslee’s) staff. Phone calls and emails throughout the weekend.”
Many golf courses, particularly the local courses operated by Premier Golf, already were practicing some of the announced guidelines for about a week before Inslee shut down recreational activities in mid-March.
“We knew that golf was going to come back,” said Mike Fosnick, the director of operations and a vice president of Premier. “With safety and everyone’s health, we would not want to open unless we were 100% sure that we could properly take care of people — our staff as well as our customers. We had a good trial run on that week before when we put in the social-distancing rules in place. What we’ve done recently is putting the plexiglass barriers in our pro shop.”
Fosnick said the pro shops at the 11 Premier-run courses have undergone deep cleanings and painting during the break.
“We were able to do a lot of things we normally aren’t able to do,” he said. “We feel good about what our facilities look like, and our golf courses are just perfect. They haven’t had anyone on them. The greens are in great shape, the aerification is done. We are ready to rock-n-roll. We are absolutely ready.”
The guidelines listed for courses:
1. Utilize online or phone tee-time-reservation systems to prepay and limit interactions, and restrict payments to credit cards to eliminate the handling of cash.
2. Maintain a log of all customers, including contact information.
3. At the golf course’s discretion, foursomes are allowed if they are from the same household. Otherwise, no more than two players from separate households per tee time. Single players should be asked if they would like to be paired together.
4. Restrict play to one rider per power cart, unless a minor is also playing.
5. Regularly sanitize counter tops, doorknobs, other common surfaces, range buckets, golf carts, push carts, cash registers, score posting kiosks and other frequently touched surfaces, including employee-used equipment.
6. Ensure that the flagstick remains in at all times. Players will be educated to avoid touching the flagstick for any reason.
7. Be creative with cup liners to avoid having players reaching into the hole to retrieve golf balls, such as installing cups upside down or partly above ground.
8. Eliminate cups and holes on practice greens.
9. Discontinue club and equipment rentals.
10. Restrict use of driving ranges and putting greens to those with a tee time within 30 minutes.
11. Remove bunker rakes and other on-course furniture such as benches, ball-washers, water coolers, etc.
12. Eliminate on-course garbage cans, and encourage golfers to carry and properly dispose of their own garbage when leaving the course.
13. Modify driving-range hitting areas to ensure a minimum 10-foot separation between players.
14. Install signage to discourage group congregation, or to limit numbers of people in a certain area of the club or pro shop. Golfers will be reminded to be especially mindful of social distancing in the parking lot, and around tees and greens.
15. Place appropriate signage outside the pro shop and clubhouse plus at the first tee entries briefly outlining the social-distancing guidelines in place.
16. Keep up to date on all changes that are happening daily.
17. Marshall the course to ensure physical distancing by reminding golfers, and where necessary, warning repeat offenders.
18. Ask golfers to leave the course immediately after playing to eliminate congestion/gathering on the property or in the parking lot.