BOSTON, Mass – Hey Massachusetts golfers, do you remember where you were on Thursday May 7 at 10 a.m.?
As if you don’t know. On that date and time golf courses were allowed to reopen after being shut down by Governor Charlie Baker on March 23. “Golf’s Grim Reaper” declared golf “non-essential” and that it was an activity too risky and a probable cause to caught the coronavirus. For the record golf was banned a total of 45 days, while 35 Governors never closed their golf economy, the Bay State was the 50th state to reopen.
From where I sit there were four key contributors to convincing the reluctant Governor that golf could be played safely. And, while shuttered caused irreversible financial damage to the estimated $2.7 billion Massachusetts golf economy, including over 25,000 jobs and 400 golf course owners.
First, a round of applause to Franklin County Club member Joe Marin, who started an online petition on Change.org on March 30 politely addressed to the Governor titled “Please Let Massachusetts Golf.” He collected over 42,000 online signatures which averages out to almost 1,000 signatures a day. Newspapers, national golf publications and social media helped distribute the message. When he reached out to Mass Golf for assistance he was rejected.
Second, a chorus of congratulations goes to Cara Cullen, whose family owns two golf courses in the Worcester area – Wachusett Country Club and Kettle Brook Golf Club. She delivered a message on national TV (FOX News) https://www.foxnews.com/us/mass-golf-course-owner-set-to-defy-states-ban-on-golfing-will-reopen giving the Governor of the Commonwealth five-days’ notice that she was going to open both courses on May 8 in defiance of the ban. Her challenge worked since Baker’s tipping point came May 7. Despite warnings and threats from Mass Golf and the Alliance of Massachusetts Golf Organizations (AMGO) to stay with their anonymous agenda she told them to take a hike. Certainly, her bravado proved a profile in courage!
Third, a key factor influencing the stubborn Governor was social media and pressure from the media. For several weeks beginning in mid-April the “noise” on all Internet channels from Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and email distribution forums proved overpowering in favor of opening golf courses. An article published April 28 seemed to kick-start Mass Golf’s role in the process https://newengland.golf/is-mass-golf-part-of-the-solution-or-the-problem/ since the Governor was tone deaf on why he banned golf, when two neighboring states (Rhode Island & Connecticut) never closed.
Keen observers of his daily press conferences noticed a change on Thursday April 30 and Friday April 1 when I started pelting him with questions about golf. Then on Monday May 4 and Tuesday May 5, more golf questions from Jonathan Hall (Channel 7), Sharman Sacchetti (Channel 5) and me. Regardless of what Baker was saying about COVID-19, golf dominated the daily news cycle and the Governors’ staff didn’t like it. The tipping point came on Wednesday May 6 when Baker presided over a graduation ceremony at Gillette Stadium in the company of 240-police cadets, then came to his daily question-and-answer session having to explain how the graduation ceremony is safe but golf is not. Less than 24-hours later he flipped!
Finally, a group of 17 leading golf organizations called the Alliance of Massachusetts Golf Organizations (AMGO), led by Mass Golf Executive Director Jesse Menachem and New England PGA Executive Director Michael Higgins, were instrumental in working behind the scenes in an attempt to reopen the golf economy, which was losing anywhere from $2-$3 million a day in revenue.
Mass Golf comes under fire
When you’re the last state to reopen your golf economy it’s hard to justify that you played a role in the process, but since May 7 Mass Golf has been going to great lengths on social media and the Internet overstating its influence.
Despite Mass Golf’s perpetual back-slapping and nonstop self-promotion of how great they are, they are the ubiquitous face of golf in the Commonwealth. Like them or not, they are unchallenged and the undisputed kingpin for 85,000 golfers with USGA handicaps and they generate revenue from 360 member clubs.
If you maintain a handicap of 4 or less you are eligible to compete in one of their tournaments and you can’t say enough good things about them because they know how to run a tournament. For the rest of its members, about 97 percent, the only use they have for you is to collect a lucrative fee for being the middleman administering the USGA handicap system. They pay the USGA $2 per player and keep the rest, for annual revenue stream over $2 million.
Maybe this explains why Mass Golf can afford to pay Executive Director Jesse Menachem an annual salary in 2018 of $229,000 plus $21,000 more residual income, according to Federal Tax Form 990. And, also why they can afford to occupy an opulent, first-class office building at 300 Arnold Palmer Blvd at TPC Norton.
A look at the 2020 schedule shows about 20 events for both men and women, almost all of them cancelled due to COVID-19. The Mass Golf website shows 20 full-time employees, even though the season only spans five months. No layoffs or furloughs are planned, according to Menachem.
On May 14, Mass Golf delivered its second public relations podcast in the last 7 days to its 85,000- member email database. In a 45-minute virtual town hall hosted by Channel 25 sports anchor Butch Stearns, soft-ball questions were posed to Menachem and three other golf industry representatives – Michael Higgins (New England PGA), Jennifer Webster O’Connor (Owner – Holly Ridge GC) and Don Hearn (GCSANE).
“We had an opportunity to present Massachusetts golf’s formulated presentation plan to the 17-member reopening advisory board and we felt extremely confident and prepared,” said Menachem, who has been an employee for 12 years, and executive director the past six. “We should be pleased that we are ahead of the game and that we are ahead of the May 18 executive order.”
In am interview with Mike Stachura, of Golf Digest, titled “Why bringing back golf in the last state where courses were still closed was like ’12 rounds in a heavyweight fight’” Menachem said, ““It was contentious at times and it took a lot longer maybe than we had hoped. I’ll be honest with you we’ve taken a beating on this. There were people out there that thought we were taking a back seat, and we weren’t supporting the industry.”
The plan submitted by AMGO was not the plan approved by the Governor on May 7. The Governor’s plan copied from another unnamed Northeast state contained flaws. There was no accommodation for golfers with disabilities as dictated by the Americans Disabilities Act (ADA), so two days later, only that part of the reopening plan was amended by the Governor’s office. Also, there was no mention of allowing restrooms open for men or women. Golf carts are not permitted even for single drivers.
Finally, when the Governor was asked about a timeline easing the restrictions, he snapped at my question saying basically be happy with what you have! https://www.bostonherald.com/2020/05/07/time-to-tee-up-charlie-baker-for-the-golf-ban/
Every golfer I know is thrilled silly to be outside playing golf again, except when they watch one of those somber, gloomy Mass Golf public relations videos!
It’s almost impossible to find someone to say Mass Golf deserves all the credit and should take a victory lap!
COMMENTS FROM GOLFERS CONCERNING BAN ON GOLF IN MASSACHUSETTS:
Mark Shay (Pinehills GC) – “Mass Golf was MIA during the golf ban. Never once did I see a quote or written correspondence to their members on what they were doing for their membership. Disappointing to say the least. Carts being banned is the nest hurdle that we will have to jump and guess what? Silence again.”
Phil Corcell (George Wright GC) – “Mass Golf should have hired a lobbyist earlier to shake up Gov. Baker who showed that he obviously doesn’t like golf. A lot of golfers traveled to Connecticut and Rhode Island to play which was lost income to golf course owners. Now we need to get golf carts permitted, ranges open and allow caddies to get back to work.”
Josh Crowe (Blue Hill CC) – I played 18 at Blue Hill CC in mid-March before golf was swiftly shut down. No specific reasoning was ever given other than golf is a “non-essential” business. The social distancing and safety guidelines in place that day were the same guidelines in place today! The biggest catalyst driving the MA government (reluctantly) to reopen golf would seem to be MA golfers simply driving to CT and playing there. CT welcomed the revenue, MA golf courses lost out. Mass Golf and other local organizations claim to have helped the reopening process along however the golfers of MA have seen zero tangible evidence of such efforts.
Leigh & Vicky MacKay – (PGA Golf Club) – “My wife and I are natives of the South Shore of MA but are retired now and living in Port St. Lucie, Florida. Unfortunately, MA and Governor Baker have the nefarious distinction of being the last state to sanction golf. Thus, Baker has doomed MA to being the United States’ Golf Five-0 as in “Book him, Danno, for imbecilia one.” All I can say is thank goodness, during the winter and early spring, we have had access to golf throughout the ubiquitous disasters that COVID-19 has thrust upon us. It has been a salvation for us away from our otherwise quarantined lives. That MA golfers have been denied access to their courses because of Governor Baker’s ill-conceived hypotheses has been inconceivable to us. Our best wishes to all our golf friends in MA. You have suffered inordinately for no reason. Hang ten, fellow golfers!”
Bruce Berlet (Glastonbury, Conn.) – Like most states, Connecticut has faced horrible financial difficulties the past few years due largely to the excessive spending of the Democrats and Governors Daniel Malloy and Ned Lamont. But the Nutmeg State — and golf in particular — received an unexpected major boost this year when Massachusetts, Vermont and New Hampshire were among the last states to allow golf courses to reopen. Connecticut benefitted most from Massachusetts being the 50th and final state to allow golf thanks to the moronic stubbornness of Gov. Charlie Baker. Before Bay State courses were finally allowed to reopen on May 7, Connecticut courses located nearby Massachusetts enjoyed increased play of as much as 40 percent, mostly from Bay State players, despite poor weather for a large part of the spring. So, thank you Gov. Baker. Connecticut appreciates your mindless delay.
Rob Phipps (Pleasant Valley CC) – “I may be considered a one-percenter, due to my 28 year membership at Sutton`s Pleasant Valley CC, yet I am a 97 percenter with Mass Golf. Just another double-digit USGA handicap system user, who shares zero interest in the `elite` only content of Mass Golf magazine. The golf I know is NOT back and only non-golfer Charlie Baker`s sudden awareness that half-thawed Alaska was about to open caused him to react at all.”
Jay Nomakeo (Holyoke) – “In the end what made the Governor reopen was the fact that MA was the last state with a plan to reopen and one golf course owner announced she was opening on May 8th regardless of the Governors orders. And the fact that there were signatures of over 42,000 golfers demanding to reopen. The Governor did not make the rules regarding the reopen of golf courses the Mass Golf Alliance did. Why they included no carts, 15 minute tee time intervals and no bathrooms makes absolutely no sense not only for golfers but golf course owner. It appears Mass Golf is another case of overpaid executives not having any clout in the sport they oversee.”
Steve Magargal (Worthington Golf Club) – “I think Mass Golf and AMGO handled the process of reopening of golf courses in Massachsuetts very poorly. It unnecessarily put golf clubs behind the 8-ball. What could be safer than being outdoors on 200-acres of landscape and only 100 people?”
Tom, Technically, Massachusetts was not the last state to open its courses. New Hampshire did so on May 11. Massachusetts was the final state to announce opening its courses. There are bumps in every section of the economy that will have to be overcome as we try to climb out of this pandemic. As the days go by, courses are making the necessary adjustments. One aspect you touched on was bathroom availability to the public. This is going to be a key issue not only on golf courses but beaches, restaurants, Malls and other public outlets. Who is going to… Read more »
Do you all realize how your whining about the courses being closed looks to the rest of the public? You are worried about playing a game, a great game absolutely, but a game nonetheless, in the middle of a pandemic killing thousands daily and where most Americans are forced to stay home and losing their jobs. Have some humility here. As things ease back open, no issue with course re-opening now but stop acting like you were martyrs during the closure period. Please.
Seeing as playing golf does not spread the virus, tell me why it should not be allowed. One person per cart, and golf is as safe as walking alone in a park.