Late Friday, the office of Ohio Governor Mike DeWine posted a new set of mandates and recommendations for Golf Course Operators — an industry sector specifically addressed operationally by the state for the first time since all of the COVID-19 rule-making began.
Some of the rules makes sense. Some make little sense at all.
Friday’s new rules were introduced as part of the Responsible RestartOhio Opening Dates process. The Sector Specific Operating Requirements lists Golf Course Operator as a new category under Sports & Sports Leagues, with the rules outlined in a PDF here.
Since golf courses have been open all along except for a few days, it’s not 100% clear if these rules are to be in force immediately or if they are to begin on May 26th, the date when “Sports and Sports Leagues” are designated as open by the Governor.
Also not clear is why that May 26th date was selected, or what the data might be behind the “safety science” for that specifically-selected date. (Tuesday May 26th is the day after the economically-significant Memorial Day weekend is over.)
Most importantly, it’s not clear exactly when these new mandates are set to end, or what the realities on the ground must be so that all golf course operations can go back to normal.
Let’s take a look at the major mandates in the new ‘Responsible RestartOhio’ for Golf Course Operators.
Rules that Remain the Same
Much of the new Golf Course Operator rules are either common sense or have been put into place by local health departments since the start of the 2020 Ohio golf season. The mandates cover many of the government’s “new normal” requirements: to post info around the building outlining “best practices”; to set up and mark the facility to ensure social distancing; to clean and disinfect all areas; to wash your hands; etc.
Now that limited restaurant service has returned, there are also new rules that golf courses and country clubs must follow related to food service operations for both sit-down and take-out.
Given that much of these items are old news, let’s skip ahead to the operationally- or fiscally-important new mandates for Golf Course Operators.
Sharing a golf cart with your buddy is back. Under the new mandates, two players may ride together in a golf cart. But Course Operators must allow those who are uncomfortable being in a cart with another person the option to ride alone:
“Golfers shall be offered flexibility related to cart use, including the option to walk or ride in a cart alone.”
Note that the mandate does not prohibit a facility from charging a higher fee to players who wish to take a golf cart by themselves.
Driving Ranges and Putting Greens
Instead of stating clearly that ranges and putting greens are open, there is only a statement that these areas should follow social distancing guidelines.
Under the section ‘Maintaining Distance in Outdoor Spaces’:
“Alter cart pick-up/drop-off, driving range and putting green practices to comply with social distancing.”
So from that line, putting greens and practice ranges may be open with social distancing guidelines in place.
This is the most costly mandate for golf course owners and operators in the PDF document: shotgun starts are still a no-go.
“Courses must not allow shotgun starts or other methods of play that lead to players completing their rounds at the same or similar times.”
Prohibiting shotgun starts makes corporate outings difficult to book and run for any golf course or club, which is a huge hit to prime-time early summer revenues.
Shotgun starts could have been permitted in a workable way following already-existing guidelines. Carts could be set up more than 6 feet apart from each other to allow for social distancing. After-golf food service could be managed under the many restaurant service requirements.
It would have been better for the Governor to recommend against shotgun starts vs. prohibiting them.
Flagsticks, Bunker Rakes, Ball Washers
These rules remain the same for golf course accessories, which is disappointing given some of the contradictions in logic.
Under the section ‘Closures, Modifications and Limitations:’ there is the statement “Remove common touchable surfaces (water coolers, bunker rakes, ball washers, etc.).”
Prohibiting water coolers is logical, as water is a direct input into the body. Many courses pulled water coolers years ago for liability reasons. Bottled water is so prevalent, too, that there is no reason for a golf course operator to take on the task of providing water coolers.
But banning ball washers and bunker rakes is a stretch to health science. Are sick golfers coughing, sneezing or spitting on bunker rakes? Is there data that COVID-19 lingers outdoors on ball washer knobs? These items can’t be given an occasional cleaning after being put out on the course?
Apparently, golfers all can pull the very same door handle to enter a clubhouse or pro shop, but picking up a rake that may go untouched for days is a health hazard.
As to flagsticks, the mandate to leave them in the hole remains in place:
“Modifications should be made so the flagstick does not need to be removed to retrieve the ball. For example, use a foam noodle stopping approximately 1 inch below the green surface. The ball goes into the cup and is lifted using the putter head. The flagstick remains lodged in the cup through the hole in the noodle.”
The same logic applies to flagsticks as outlined above. Sure, players have gotten used to putting with the flagstick in. But creating rules with dubious scientific logic and mandating everyone follow those rules is frustrating — especially when there is no clear exception given for high-level competitive tournament golf.
Rules specific to playing any game should not be mandated by a state government. Recommended perhaps, but not mandated.
Scoreboards are not specifically prohibited, but gatherings of more than 10 people within a confined space are.
“Alter practices for accommodating leagues and outings to meet social distancing and large gathering guidelines.”
There is a “Recommended Best Practices” statement about scoreboards, but it is not a mandate:
“Scoring must be recorded digitally, and courses should not use scoreboards to limit congregation among spectators and players.”
So expect to have to stand back from an outdoor scoreboard or video screen (why go inside for that ever anyway?) once your scores are posted. No standing shoulder-to-shoulder with 30 other guys at an indoor board trying to figure out if your skin on 12 is still good.
Starting Time Spacing
Starting times are not mandated to be spaced further apart than normal. While there is a “Recommended Best Practices” to do so, expect starting times to return to 8, 9 or 10 minutes apart soon.
Employees and Masks
The language of this section contains plenty of wiggle room, likely by design, as the Governor waffled on mandating masks early on in his reopening process.
“Businesses must require all employees to wear facial coverings, except for one of the following reasons:
• Facial coverings in the work setting are prohibited by law or regulation;
• Facial coverings are in violation of documented industry standards;
• Facial coverings are not advisable for health reasons;
• Facial coverings are in violation of the business’ documented safety policies;
• Facial coverings are not required when the employee volunteer works alone in an assigned work area;
• There is a functional (practical) reason for an employee/volunteer not to wear a facial covering in the workplace.”
Northeast Ohio Golf will work to find out if these mandates and recommendations may be undertaken now or if they must wait until May 26th to begin.
It is also important to find out what statistical achievements or real-world results must be in evidence to eliminate all of the state mandates entirely.
This story will be updated if a response is provided.
Bottom line, it would have been better for the Ohio Governor’s office to make far more recommendations and far fewer mandates in Friday’s Golf Course Operators document. It would have been best to allow those Operators the ability to serve their customers and run their businesses in the way that they see fit. They are smart, and they’ve been doing this forever…