We're another week into the COVID-19 pandemic response and various state and local governments are escalating measures as their case counts rise. How this is impacting local golf courses and destinations widely varies.
Amidst the ongoing global rise in COVID-19 cases, two large items of news pertaining to golf and sport surfaced early this week. The first is the International Olympic Committee has agreed to postpone the Tokyo games to a date no later than the summer of 2021. This will impact the pro golf schedule for both 2020 and 2021 when competition resumes.
On the recreational front, on the evening of March 23, United Kingdom Prime Minister Boris Johnson ordered new government mandates strictly limiting travel to essential purposes only. This was interpreted by the golf clubs of the U.K. to halt operations indefinitely as the country works to flatten the curve.
Most of the news surrounding golf courses in the U.S. has been of government mandated suspensions to non-essential operations. Two of the latest statewide mandates on March 23 came from Michigan and Maryland. Elsewhere, some resort properties have determined they can't safely or effectively serve their guests with new social distancing safety measures in place. The two most prominent golf resorts out West - Bandon Dunes (closed until April 7) and Pebble Beach Resorts (closed until April 17) - have announced they would suspend hotel and golf operations.
Some golf destinations remain open for business
Our internal numbers show that over 1,200 golf courses in the U.S. as of March 24th have suspended operations. The virus outbreak has come at a particularly unfortunate time for certain southern destinations where March and April is a peak season. One destination that stands to be hit very hard is Myrtle Beach, whose immensely popular peak season starts around mid-March and goes through April. Alan Blondin at the Myrtle Beach Sun News reports that courses have stayed open but there have been a lot of cancellations.
“It’s the best season I’ve seen on the books in years and it’s going away rapidly,” said Chip Smith, managing partner of Atlantic Golf Management, which operates two courses in the market – Whispering Pines Golf Club and Brunswick Plantation & Golf Resort – and more than 100 rental condos.
Meanwhile in the Carolinas, Pinehurst Resort is home to 10 of its own golf courses and has a large membership and local community of golfers in addition to golf travelers from around the world. As of Monday they have closed their lodging operations and F&B has been reduced to takeout, but you can still play golf. They are taking precautions on property and encourage walking and have modified their cups for less surface contact. (Latest Pinehurst COVID-19 updates here).
Out west, one seriously hard-hit tourist destination is Las Vegas, whose hotels were mandated to close by state order. Like Myrtle Beach, March is a huge time of year for both sports betting and playing golf. The American Hotel & Lodging Association is projecting over 80,000 jobs lost in Nevada alone as part of over 1 million across the U.S. as a result of what appears will be a longstanding disruption to travel. The good news for golfers is that over the weekend, the Governor clarified that golf courses may remain open so long as the clubhouses are closed and other social distancing measures were enacted.
Nevada isn't the only place where the governor's mandate created some confusion pertaining to golf. Larry Bohanan at the Desert Sun reports some local courses in the Coachella Valley have remained open despite the Governor's mandated closure of essential businesses.
Meanwhile, Florida golf courses that were set up for PGA Tour events only to have them cancelled are booking tee times. You can book tee times online currently at TPC Sawgrass' Stadium and Valley courses. On Monday, March 23, Innisbrook Resort, which was supposed to host last week's Valspar Championship, announced it had suspended operations at the resort.
At Golf Advisor, we continue to receive reviews of golf courses coast-to-coast and many reviewers are detailing measures being taken by the course staffs to facilitate a safe environment. Some golfers have complained that they have booked a tee time online only to arrive at a closed golf course. If you do manage to book at tee time, it is still a safe bet to check with the course before you leave to confirm they are open as policies are changing rapidly at facilities across the country. Nevertheless, some groups are still finding the game is a fitting and safe escape.
"Having the ability to get out to a course and play golf was the highlight of my day and WEEK," wrote reviewer verlindar at Cimarron Golf Resort in Cathedral City, Calif. "The staff was working diligently to ensure our safety by wiping off the carts and staying at the required distance. The opportunity to be in an open air environment and playing the sport I love was appreciated and won't be forgotten."
If you're interested in playing golf and courses are open where you live, the Golf and Health Project, a non-profit organization supported by the World Golf Foundation, released guidelines earlier this week for safe play during this time.
Meanwhile, one popular golf company is stepping up to help during the crisis. Seamus Golf, based in Oregon, has closed its website to orders and has begun manufacturing masks to combat the shortage in the medical community. The masks are free for frontline responders. A statement at Seamusgolf.com reads:
Over the past few days we received inquiries from primary care physicians, nurses, and first responders for our masks. Prototyping began last week and ended with our first production run on Friday. We are using our materials and constructing them in a way that each of these individuals are requesting to use as a last resort. They have confirmed that what we are making is better than what they are resorting to use.
Seamus Golf is another example that, even during a pandemic, you can count on the golf industry to step up to support worthy causes in a time of need.
What is the status of golf in your community? Let us know in the comments below.