New York golf courses now open during COVID-19 pandemic
The ninth hole at Undermountain Golf Course in Copake sat empty last week, as the state had declared golf courses non-essential businesses and ordered them closed on April 9. That decision was reversed on April 18, and the course is now open. Photo submitted

New York golf courses now open during COVID-19 pandemic

NEW YORK STATE — All while trying to maintain social distancing during the COVID-19 crisis, residents across New York state have turned to the great outdoors to stay active as they wait for the pandemic to end — and to get relief from cabin fever. However, even in their attempts to practice responsible recreation, many have called into question whether golf courses should be operating. There’s been some back and forth from the state on the issue.

In his Facebook Live Town Hall on Wednesday, April 8, Dutchess County Executive Marc Molinaro addressed the concerns by explaining that under the state’s order, a request to close golf courses needs to be made to the New York State Department of Health. Under state law, he said golf courses can remain open, though he emphasized the necessity of social distancing. Molinaro said at that time that golfers should ride individually in golf carts and should not share carts with anyone other than a spouse or an immediate family member living in the same household as them.

“It’s OK to be on the course, it’s OK to play independent of one another, it’s OK to play 6, 7, 10 feet from one another — it is not OK to play together as a group,” Molinaro said.

But after much consideration, New York state issued revised mandates on Thursday, April 9, declaring golf courses as non-essential businesses. All of the state’s golf courses were ordered to close until Wednesday, April 29.

Governor Andrew Cuomo announced the decision to deem golf courses as non-essential businesses during his daily press conference, held in Albany on Friday, April 10.

“Can you walk on a course with clubs if you don’t hit a ball? That’s a good question,” said Cuomo with some humor. “We’re going to have to litigate.”

Secretary to the Governor Melissa DeRosa stated the rules more sternly moments later.

“There’s no golfing, no basketball, no tennis,” she said. “We’re encouraging people to stay home and get their exercise. We don’t want a situation with the caddies — it’s a group activity. There are not just people golfing, there are people running the golf course and it’s counter to other measures we’re [instituting].”

Since the pandemic broke out last month, golf courses like Undermountain Golf Course in Copake have been urged to adhere to the state’s restrictions — first by practicing social distancing on the course, then by closing for business. Undermountain Golf Course owner and President Trish MacArthur said the course originally closed on Saturday, March 21, under the New York State on PAUSE Executive Order that shut down all non-essential businesses statewide. The course reopened for business on Friday, March 27, under the mandated guidelines issued by the state and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Opening in a limited capacity, MacArthur said the golf course implemented regulations for social distancing and remained open until Thursday, April 9, when golf courses were again deemed non-essential.

“I think, honestly, even though we were at a limited capacity… I was concerned that people weren’t following the right social distancing guidelines,” MacArthur said, “and I think Gov. Cuomo made the right decision in closing us down, even if it saves one single life. 

“As much as people are trying, I think we’re all human and this is all new behavior for us,” she continued. “It’s been a tough time for everyone.”

Yet just when they feared golf courses would stay closed indefinitely, golfers in the state were surprised by a reversal of the closure mandate, as New York announced it would reopen courses with social distancing guidelines on Saturday, April 18. As written on the New York State Golf Association website at www.nysga.org, guidelines for reopening golf courses mandate that all golfers maintain social distancing at all times; no access is permitted to club facilities; and there can be no employees working at the golf course’s recreational component with the exception of security personnel. Additionally, the guidelines mandate that there will be no caddies or golf carts, except pull carts, utilized on golf courses.

In response to the latest news from the state, MacArthur said she was pleased and “cautiously optimistic.” As of this time, Undermountain Golf Course is conducting its business transactions either online or over the phone, and is not interfacing with customers, with the exception of selling takeout beverages.

“We have security here that’s been enforcing the rules of social distancing,” MacArthur said, “so I’m delighted to have the doors back open — as long as everyone behaves.”

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