For a few brief days, maybe a little more than a week in some places, golfers throughout the Capital Region were able to get out on the course — under strict social distancing guidelines — as one of the few recreational activities still allowed during the NY State on PAUSE order issued by Gov. Andrew Cuomo to slow the spread of COVID-19.
Thursday morning, golf courses were also put on pause.
Empire State Development issued new guidelines Thursday pertaining to which businesses are deemed essential and are not subject to work-from-home orders. According to the new guidelines, “golf courses are not essential” and will be closed through at least April 29.
Later Thursday morning, the Northeastern New York PGA sent an email to its membership, stating that “The NENY PGA Section leadership urges all golf course operations to stop to be in compliance with the new revisions. The closing of golf courses shall be effective through April 29th or until heard otherwise from the NY Governor.”
Rich Scott, the owner and operator of Johnstown’s Fox Run Golf Club and the NENY PGA’s vice president, said in a phone interview Thursday that course operators were wary that a move like this could come ever since Monday, when Onondaga County ordered all of its public and private golf courses to close.
“We’ve been on conference calls every day with our PGA section,” Scott said. “It kind of felt that’s probably the way the tide was going to turn, being that Syracuse and the Onondaga County executive kind of set a precedent out there. We felt there was a possibility of something happening.”
Calls were not answered Thursday at Schenectady Municipal Golf Course, which had opened Monday. The voicemail message at the course said, “Per Gov. Cuomo’s new mandates on golf courses being non-essential businesses, our facility is now closed until further notice.”
Amsterdam Municipal Golf Course had also opened its 2020 season Monday. Course pro Kevin Canale said in a phone interview Thursday that he realized being forced to close was “always a possibility” but had hoped the social distancing measures golf courses were required to institute would allow them to remain open.
Before the new guidelines were issued Thursday, courses were permitted to operate with strict social distancing measures in place. Among the requirements in addition to players being required to maintain six feet of distance between each other at all times, carts were limited to one person; the use of bunker rakes, benches and on-course water coolers was banned; flagsticks could not be touched; pro shops were closed and bars/restaurants were limited to take-out orders only.
“I think maintaining social distancing and being able to get outside and exercise, we thought all the right things were there to stay open,” Canale said. “Obviously, the powers that be feel differently and we have to comply.”
Amsterdam Mayor Michael Cinquanti issued a press release Thursday afternoon closing the course effective immediately.
According to the statement, “It will remain closed until April 29, 2020 or until notified otherwise by New York State.”
Scott said that Fox Run had been open for a little more than a week and that business had been relatively strong on days when the weather cooperated.
”I think people were happy to get out of their houses and see civilization,” he said, “be in the great outdoors.”
“The restrictions were different, for sure, but they were manageable,” he added. “At least they gave us some sense of sanity, being able to be out there with single-rider carts and with the cups raised and all the [Centers for Disease Control and Prevention] guidelines we were following. It was working. It wasn’t ideal, but it certainly was working.”
Canale said that in the three days Amsterdam Muni was open, patrons had done well in complying to the social distancing requirements, even if some were wary of the conditions. The course was requiring tee times for all golfers, which were spaced 15 minutes apart.
“There were times where there were people here, and I think not everybody felt safe when people did show up and there was more than one person here at a time,” Canale said. “But, we were obviously following the guidelines and doing the best we could. … I think there’s going to be a lot of disappointed people, being that this was the only thing anybody could really do for exercise, other than walk their neighborhood.”
Thursday’s new ESD guidelines do keep landscaping for maintenance purposes as an essential business, meaning that course upkeep can continue.
That, Scott said, is vital.
“The good thing is, we can keep a portion of the maintenance staff on, so we can keep the turf grass healthy,” Scott said. “If we couldn’t have that, that’d be a catastrophe.”
While being forced to close back up so soon after opening is difficult, Canale said that being able to open Amsterdam Muni in early April was “bonus time” that often isn’t available to courses if the winter weather is too harsh.
“If you look back over the years, for a golf course in this neck of the woods to be open in early April is a bonus,” he said. “If we’re forced to open the first week or second week of May, that’s maybe a little later than normal, but I’ve worked in this business a long time in the Northeast and there’s been times we didn’t know if we could golf on Memorial Day. This was bonus time that we had, but it is what it is.”
Reach Adam Shinder at [email protected] or @Adam_Shinder on Twitter.