Golfer Josh Small tees off while Matt Burgess, left, Eric D’Elia and Joe Doucette look on at Nonesuch River Golf Club on Saturday in Scarborough. With the unusually mild early spring weather, several southern Maine golf courses are open but they are having to significantly modify their operations to maintain social distancing. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

The Maine State Golf Association and golf courses hoped Governor Janet Mills would take a mulligan on her decision to classify golf as a non-essential business during the COVID-19 pandemic, but her decision to close golf courses for the month of April still stands after an appeal.

Courses were challenging a portion of the mandate in Gov. Mills’ executive order, which was announced on Tuesday.

“At this time, we are closed due to the “Stay Healthy at Home Mandate”,” Fox Ridge Golf Club wrote in a Facebook post. “We are working with GolfMe, the MSGA and the state to enact industry wide best practices that may allow us to reopen under section 5 of the mandate which allows for the engagement in outdoor exercise activities. Until we are able to reopen the course is closed to all access including walking and non-golf recreation.”

Section five of the mandate says “Engaging in outdoor exercise activities, such as fishing, walking, hiking, running or biking, but only in compliance with the gathering restriction in Executive Order 14 FY 19/20 and all applicable social distancing guidance published by the U.S. and Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention;”

Brian Bickford, the MSGA execute director, is trying to figure out why golf is being treated differently than other physical activities.

“I feel like our sport had done a lot to change our role from being a golf course to be more of a park setting,” Bickford said. “In other words, it’s called park and play, it’s kind of a program that states have instituted which is a seamless no touch transition from the parking lot to the course back to the parking lot and out. That acts like a park.

“The thing we have spent a lot of time working on is golf courses have a lot of built-in social distancing mechanisms… that a park wouldn’t or a hiking trail wouldn’t,” he said.

Social distancing is important, even at the golf course. Joe Doucette, left, and Josh Small walk a path at Nonesuch River Golf Club on Saturday after teeing off. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Bickford said golf courses put in place safety measures which they thought would allow them to continue to operate. Some of those measures included clubs closing the pro shops and bars and only allowing tee times to be reserved online. The MSGA had been in communication with Heather Johnson, Maine’s Commissioner of Department of Economic Community Development after Mills’ decision on Tuesday. Bickford said Johnson is the gatekeeper for what businesses are essential and nonessential.

Disc golf is also considered a non-essential business.

Last week Bickford said golf courses were not on either list, but he had heard there were a lot of calls to authorities from people seeing people congregate at golf courses over this past weekend.

The decision handed down by the state was not surprising to Nick Glicos, owner and director of golf at Martindale.

“We kind of expected it was going to happen. We looked around at a lot of states around us that already made that decision,” Glicos said. “A bunch of us were prepared for it a little bit.”

Glicos was planning on opening his course in the middle of April. He has already had to move some public events in April and early May because of the late start, such as demo days to get clubs fitted. Glicos is doing everything possible to get demo days going in some sort of fashion.

Bickford said the MSGA hasn’t come to a decision on if events in the summer will be postponed or canceled.

Another thing golf courses have to deal with is the inventory that was ordered for the pro shop.

“I have rescheduled a lot of vendors to put a hold on a lot of my merchandise until we are looking at an opening date,” Poland Spring’s head golf professional John King said.

Josh Small of South Portland putts toward a PVC pipe that fills the hole while Matt Burgess of Scarborough looks on at Nonesuch River Golf Club in Scarborough on Saturday. The course is prohibiting golfers from touching the flags on all the greens and has covered the holes to protect patrons against the spread of coronavirus. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

King  works in Alabama as the director of instruction with the Robert Trent Jones Golf Trail Grand National during the off-season and has yet to move back north. He has been getting updates on what’s happening in Maine from Poland Spring owner Cyndi Robbins.

Bickford is unsure if driving ranges not associated with golf courses fall into the order.

“If someone would take the CDC criteria, follow it, I think it could be perfectly safe,” Bickford said. “Now I am not a doctor, right? If you follow all precautions, I think a driving range, you could set up 10 feet from somebody or more, every other bay or don’t touch the golf balls. There are ways to make that happen very safely and, again, reading the governor’s orders the past couple of weeks, it comes down to touching. I think you can eliminate that on a driving range, maybe not when you tee up the ball, but every over case you definitely could.”

With the mild winter, most golf courses were in good shape heading into the opening of the season.

“It looked like everybody’s turf survived, there was no real damage over the winter,” Glicos said. “We are trying to look at the positives at this point, and when we are ready to go and we get the order to open, we will open – we will be ready to go with good conditions.

One thing the executive order Mills issued will allow is golf courses to be maintained by the grounds keeping staff.

It’s a small win for the golf community.

“We got confirmation it’s OK to maintain our courses,” Bickford said. “So that’s big because in some states not only did they close the golf course, but the golf maintenance (as well). In a growing season you can imagine that’s rough right there.

“So on May 1,” he added, “every place is going to look like Augusta National (in Augusta, Georgia) because you have the superintendent on there and no golfers – at least they are going to be able to mow.”


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