As Brian Bickford, Maine State Golf Association executive director, so aptly put it: “Golf has had a rules change, a handicap system and now pandemic. What’s next?”

After enduring the 2019 changes in the USGA Rules of Golf, American golfers have been asked to understand and accept the world golf handicap system, which went into effect in the United States on Jan. 1 of this year. As winter of 2020 comes to its conclusion, golf around the world is meeting perhaps its greatest challenge — the coronavirus, aka COVID-19.

Bill Kennedy, Golf Columnist

The Maine golf formula for handling the coronavirus has not yet been developed, but Bickford and the MSGA staff are working on it — from their homes, as the MSGA office shut its doors March 16.

Bickford has been discussing this with officials from several golf groups such as the New England PGA, course superintendents individually and their professional associations, plus club officials. He expects to make and announce recommendations and policies soon.

The big issue is social contact, Bickford said. Different clubs/courses have different ways of minimizing this. Because golf is played mostly outdoors, Bickford believes it can be played and that it can be healthy for the players.

“We are told that walking the course is healthy for the golfer and minimizes contact between players,” he said. “Then there is the recommendation of just one golfer per cart. One of the courses (The Meadows) is considering 15 minutes between tee times.”


The longer spans between tee times are being used effectively in other states.

When asked what he is hearing around Maine, Bickford said that many of the private clubs have closed their clubhouses and locker rooms to eliminate up-close contact between members.

Other areas of consideration are the suspension of shotgun starts for tournaments, because it gets large groups of people together before they go to their respective tee boxes.

“That would be seen as too much congregation,” Bickford said.

Another way to reduce contact between players and clubhouse employees is a plan developed at Nonesuch River. Tee times are secured and paid for online, meaning no contact, and the paid-for group simply reports to the starter.

The traditional handshakes at the conclusion of golf rounds will be discouraged, for obvious reasons. And there is a proposal to eliminate pins from the greens. Water bottles only instead of the water jugs will be studied. More ball washers could be installed.


Because of the relatively mild winter, golf is being played at courses in York and Cumberland counties. Bickford claims that in Maine this is known as “LL Bean boots golf,” because the courses can be extremely muddy.

Bickford also said that the MSGA Board of Directors is anxious “to weigh in” on the coronavirus situation in Maine.

“We are thinking about a lot of stuff,” he said. “If we can live with modifications in golf, we have a chance to make golf work well in 2020.”

Summed up, to effectively beat the coronavirus and to enjoy healthy golf, the play touches must be reduced and/or eliminated. That accomplished, there is a good chance that COVID-19 will not be a factor on 2020 Maine golf.

That said, COVID-19 cannot be taken lightly. If it results in deaths, and causes the postponement of major tournaments — The Masters and The PGA — it is a very real threat to the ways of human life. Be healthy and be open to medical advice.



Nonesuch River generally is among the first courses open in Maine and the last to close during a typical golf season. A quick poll of other courses in Vacationland showed that also open is Dunegrass, which had 108 players March 18 on a beautiful day.


While many golf courses are canceling spring tournaments, some are still scheduled. One of them is the 26th annual Camp Sunshine Tournament to be held June 8 at Point Sebago. For information on that call 655-3800 or log onto

Bill Kennedy, a retired New Jersey golf writer and editor, now residing on Thompson Lake in Otisfield, is in his eighth season as Sun Journal golf columnist.

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