More than half of courses closed, others fighting to stay open

NGF report shows only 44% of courses open

The golf industry continues to grapple with the coronavirus crisis, with 13 states and a host of counties and cities forbidding play. That has led to more than half of courses being closed. National Golf Foundation reported that as many as 44% of golf courses were open for play as of the week ending April 5, with the highest concentration in the south. The courses that are open have changed policies to ensure safety, including many moving to a touchless experience. 

It’s been confusing for some course operators. A number have complained about inconsistent messaging coming from government and health leaders. Shelter-in-place guidelines are targeting non-essential businesses, forcing them to close, including most retail stores and entertainment businesses. However, some governments feel that golf qualifies as an essential business, given its recreational benefits. Others have ruled otherwise. 

Golfers and the golf industry have been lobbying governments that ordered courses shut to reconsider. Ohio initially closed its courses but later reversed that decision as long as social distancing policies were in place.

“If your golf course is operating as an outdoor recreation opportunity and abiding by all of the order’s social distancing requirements, there is likely not a health concern,” the Ohio Department of Health said in an email, according to the Toledo Blade.

Southern states are where most golf courses remain open. For instance, 82% of the courses remain open in the southern region that includes Texas, according to the NGF. That’s the highest of any region, but not by much. The neighboring southern regions have 78% and 76% of courses open. These two other regions include states such Georgia, Florida and the Carolinas. 

By comparison just 22% of course are open in western states. They are facing more sweeping state restrictions, the NGF noted. While 42 states have shelter-in-place rules, only 13 states restrict golf. Some states don’t have policies aimed at golf, but local governments may. 

When it comes to closures, municipal courses have been hit hardest. Only one-third remain open. Nearly half of daily fee and private courses — at 46% and 47% respectively — remain open, the NGF reports.  

And not every club or golf course — even where they are allowed to stay open — are. The owners and managers have stopped operations out of health concerns, noting the pandemic is not widely understood. 

Other courses are moving to a touchless experience.

foreUP a golf software company has created a tool called Mobile Check In that allows golfers to book online, pay online and tee-off without having to interact with another person.

“Picture it: A player books their tee time, pays for their tee time, checks in, and then just walks up to the first tee when it’s time," the company states on its website. "Your Marshall glances down at their phone to verify that they are checked in, and the round starts with almost no effort on your part whatsoever. And, more importantly, without getting too close. This is the future of business!”

fourUP held a webinar recently called “Managing Your Course During Covid-19.” Mark Farrow, who joined foreUP as their director of managed marketing services in March, was one of the speakers. 

“Golf courses are like havens for golfers who love golf,” he said. “I feel most comfortable when I’m at a club or in and around the pro shop or on the golf course … This is a place that can ease some of their pain if they’re having trouble at work or been laid off … It gives us a place to go.” 

Farrow had been director of business development for Teesnap since 2014. 

Once on the course, golfers are in good shape, social-distance wise. Golf courses have ample space and a foursome can play a round by social distancing themselves and avoiding other groups. Many courses have new rules in place, such as:

No more handshakes. No high-fiving. No touching of the flag pins. At some, they put foam circles in the bottom of the cups, so the balls don’t go all the way inside. 

Bunker rakes? They’ve been removed. Same with ball-washers. No caddies are allowed. And many have done away with carts and require walking. If carts are allowed, only one player is allowed to ride. Still other courses are lengthening the time between when groups of golfers can tee off. They are also sanitizing more aggressively. 

Many courses that are operating have discontinued many of their other features. Clubhouses have been closed and food & beverage operations are either shuttered or only offering takeout. The use of cash for purchases is discouraged or prohibited.

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