CANTON, Mass – With temperatures peaking at 60 degrees, Saturday was a perfect Spring day to play golf, except for one problem, due to an abundance of caution related to the spread of COVID-19 (coronavirus) Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker, by executive order dated March 23, shutdown non-essential businesses including all golf courses.
The executive order was appealed by nine organizations representing the Alliance of Massachusetts Golf Organizations, and the Governor clarified that golf course maintenance is an essential business activity permitted to function as usual.
Bay State golfers and golf course owners who need further clarification can go to the home page of Mass Golf which states:
“GOLF LISTED AS NON-ESSENTIAL
Mass Golf and the Alliance of Massachusetts Golf Organizations (AMGO) serve as advocates and a resource for the golf industry in Massachusetts.
Per the updated COVID-19 Essential Service FAQ website, golf operations and playing golf at a Massachusetts golf course, country club or facility is not permitted as of Tuesday, March 24th at noon until Tuesday, April 7th at noon.
“Are golf courses considered essential? NO”
As per our previous email, golf course and facility maintenance is still allowed per the landscaping guidance provided by Mark Fuller, Undersecretary of Business Growth Development at Executive Office of Housing & Economic Development at Commonwealth of Massachusetts.”
Mass Golf Executive Director Jesse Menachem said it was not a decision anyone in the golf industry in Massachusetts agrees with but it is an order that must be followed or be subject to serious consequences.
“This is an extremely difficult time for all of us and in complying with the Governor’s orders, we are all working towards being able to return to the game we care so deeply about in the future,” said Menachem in a telephone interview. “The number of states allowing golf changes daily but Massachusetts is one of six states not allowing golf. We know golf can be played with proper social distancing and complying with all Center for Disease Control requirements.”
Golfers Flock to Ponkapoag Golf Course
Despite the ban, on Saturday over a hundred golfers showed up and played golf at Ponkapoag Golf Course – a state-owned and managed golf property featuring 36 holes, with dozens of trails and hiking paths.
At 2 p.m. the parking lot was over-flowing with golfers going-to-and-coming-from their cars with golf bags and push carts. Except that many wore protective masks around their mouths, the scene resembled any given Saturday in summer. By modest estimate, 300 strollers, hikers, bikers, exercise junkies and walkers were observed striding casually along the main paved walkway. Most wore sneakers while many one-on-one conversations were held well inside the close-encounter zone of six-feet and everyone had cell phones.
Golfers were playing on both 18-hole courses although there were no pins and no official cups on any green. It was an uplifting and cheery scene, but being in the middle of an unprecedented pandemic crisis raises the question: Where the heck is the Governor? If we are in a state-wide management crisis who is responsible for this fiasco?
Golfers Flock to two Private Courses
We are living in strange times for sure. Will Saturday’s in the park or on the golf course ever be the same?
As of today, the law allows us to wake up – go to Dunkin Donuts, CVS, Home Depot, the grocery store, liquor store, get an oil change, visit the local medical marijuana depository and order take-out food. The government has a list of hundreds of things we cannot do including the closing of drive-thru car washes and golf.
If I wanted to play golf Saturday it would be in Rhode Island or Connecticut or New Hampshire, which are all rumored to be closing. Instead, on a tip, I decided to personally visit a few local golf courses geographically-located nearby to find out first-hand what golf, if any, is being played.
I started in Canton – the town with the most golf holes this side of the Mississippi. There are six courses – Blue Hill CC (27), Ponkapoag GC (36), Wampatuck GC (9), Milton Hoosic GC (9) – totaling 81 holes. Only Ponky was open with no employees or green fees being paid.
“We would do anything to be open,” said Blue Hill Country Club General Manager Bryan LaBlue. “We just asked Mass Golf for clarification and they said that under the order given, no golf is permitted, public, private equity, or private. They also said the state is considering fining or suspending licensing for not complying.”
I drove to Wollaston Golf Club (Milton), Dedham Country & Polo Club and Needham Golf Club and all were sealed up tight with signs that said “closed” through April 7 or until further notice.
To my surprise, the parking lot was packed at Thorny Lea Golf Club (Brockton) and the place was bustling with activity the whole day. Almost every hole had foursomes with the first tee backed up with players on the adjacent putting green.
A longtime member told me he can play because he is considered an “owner.” He said he has equity ownership in the club and he and other “equity owners” have a right to play whenever they want.
That is the only explanation Thorny Lea offered. Later in the day I was threatened with physical harm by a Thorny Lea member on my Facebook page and Facebook messenger if the club was mentioned in a published article. This raises the question if the club had a legal right to be open then why threaten a golf writer?
Norfolk Golf Club (Westwood) is another nine-hole private course that was open for business all day Saturday. The pins were in, with cups designed for proper social distancing and carts were allowed (limited). The parking lot was full and it appeared that everything was normal.
For more information about the COVID-19 crisis and its effect on the estimated $3 billion golf industry in Massachusetts visit these sites: