Golf has always been a game of patience. During the coronavirus crisis, it still is, but in a different sense: local golf courses have been closed since Gov. Charlie Baker’s shutdown of nonessential businesses on March 24 and will remain closed until at least May 18.
“When it does resume, it will most likely be in phases,” said Mark O’Brien, director of operations at the Captains Golf Course in Brewster, via email. The course is owned and operated by the town.
Those phases could include allowing course members only at first, a limit on the number of people on the course, or a limit on the capacity at the restaurant or pro shop.
Early on in the closure, some golfers were spotted teeing off at local courses.
“We have had a handful of people park on a street adjacent to the course and come onto the property, but the police department has been placing fliers on these vehicles informing them that this is not allowed, and that has pretty much taken care of the problem,” O’Brien said.
Captains has blockades at the entrances to all its facilities, and signs informing people that they need to stay out. Email blasts were sent to members, and the course’s website makes it clear that it’s temporarily closed.
“Thankfully, people have been respecting these directives,” O’Brien said. “We all know that the golfers want to get out there, but it’s all being done to keep our community safe.”
Highland Links in Truro and the Chequessett Yacht and Country Club in Wellfleet also remain closed, with website alerts to stay off the courses until further notice. The Links is operated by Johnson Golf Management in Harwich, which did not respond to phone calls or emails. Barbara Boone, Chequessett’s general manager and director of golf, also did not respond.
Mass Golf and the “allied golf organizations of New England/Northeast” created the web page massgolf.org/covid19 to serve as a resource for golf courses and individual golfers during the pandemic. The group has lobbied for courses to safely reopen.
So far, Connecticut and Rhode Island have allowed golf to reconvene under specific guidelines and restrictions, according to massgolf.org.
Massachusetts is among eight states that won’t allow golf to be played and that have no announced re-opening date, though course maintenance is permitted.
Golf is a socially distant game by nature. Whether it’s played in a group or individually, golfers don’t need to be near one another. The closest they might get is riding in a cart. Most regular players have their own clubs, though rental clubs are offered at some courses.
Darren Wotherspoon of Wellfleet is an avid golfer and a Captains member. “Personally, subjectively, yeah, I think we can play golf,” he said. “But what precedent does that set? If we can play golf, then can we play tennis?”
Wotherspoon thinks that when courses re-open, their pro shops and restaurants would need to stay closed. Fees could be paid online or by phone. He suggested that golfers not use carts and walk the course instead.
“I love walking,” said Wotherspoon. But “there’s an issue of the elder population that plays, which is a big population around here. That kind of makes it hard for them.”
The financial impact the closure has had on both private and municipal courses could be significant.
“Our original revenue projections for the last quarter of our fiscal year, April to June, were approximately $1.5 million,” O’Brien said. “We expect that these revenues will be reduced by at least half.”
He expects the course will have a deficit for the year. Six golf events have been canceled through June, though two were rebooked for later in the year. Smaller reservations have been canceled, and some rebooked, as well.
O’Brien said he expects membership to be off but is uncertain by how much: “It’s hard to say where we will end up.”
And so, for now, golf remains a game of patience.