Governor’s clarification of golf courses as non-essential is “reverse mulligan” to WNY golfers

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(WIVB) – For New York’s golfing community, this must feel like a reverse mulligan. 

Two weeks ago, the Governor’s office clarified its restrictions on non-essential businesses during the coronavirus crisis, saying golf courses could remain open if they met certain conditions. 

Golf course owners, who had been awaiting direction from the state and hoping to open for business, were relieved. So were golfers. Last Friday night, virtually every available tee time for between 8 a.m. and 4 p.m. at open courses in the Buffalo area had been booked for Saturday.

But the happy times for golfers were short-lived. In its latest update issued Thursday morning, golf courses were added to the state’s COVID-19 non-essential list. Boat launches and marinas were also tagged as non-essential in the latest state order. 

In the initial edict issued on Saturday, March 21, Gov. Andrew Cuomo prohibited non-essential businesses and said, “Any business not in compliance with the order is subject to civil fines and mandatory closures.” But there was no indication on whether golf courses could be exempt, like public parks.

“It’s just highly disappointing,” said Michael Protos, who owns Chestnut Hill Golf Course on Broadway in Darien Center. “On the one hand, the state is encouraging people to use parks to work out, burn off some energy and get some outdoor air. On the other hand, they’re saying, ‘Well, golf courses don’t count for that,’ even though golf is played in small groups.”

“To have this come out all of a sudden, I’m kind of surprised,” Protos added. “Maybe other businesses are angry that golf courses are open.”

Judging from some of the comments on social media in recent days, that was likely the case. Most people were staying at home and even wearing masks to the grocery store. When they saw golf courses packed on the weekend, they had to wonder if there was a double standard in play.

““People were probably seeing basketball hoops and equipment taken down in parks and saying, ‘What about the golf courses?’” said Rob Millbrand, who owns Holland Hills Golf Course. 

Two weeks ago, Millbrand was bemoaning the lack of direction from the state and wondering if it was OK to let people play with social distancing restrictions. When the state golf association got the OK two weeks ago, he opened his course. 

“Business was good, though a lot of my older members still wouldn’t play,” Millbrand said Thursday. “Tuesday was great until the rain started around 3:30. We were mowing the fairways. Today, it was snowing out here.”

Chestnut Hill, which is renowned for hosting scrambles in the summer, has been making the current rules explicit on the front of its website: “Operating Per NY State Guidelines’ it reads, and “Social Distancing Policies in Effect.”

“We were doing one person per cart,” Protos said. “We had the cups raised up off the playing surface so you didn’t have to reach into the cups or touch the flagstick. We only let one group in the clubhouse at a time, and did other things to keep people apart while they get a chance to get out of the house and relax.

“The fact you couldn’t get a tee time Saturday shows you there’s a huge demand for activity while we’re all stuck basically sheltering in place.”

It doesn’t matter now. The state has spoken, and there will be no golf in New York until April 29 at the earliest. Millbrand said he’s fine with the new ruling, though it would have been better if the state issued it sooner. 

“I just wish they wouldn’t keep yo-yoing us,” he said. 

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