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Massachusetts Golf Courses Reopening With Heavy Coronavirus Restrictions

BOSTON (CBS) – Golf courses in Massachusetts were allowed to reopen immediately Thursday with new strict social distancing guidelines because of the coronavirus pandemic.

The big changes include no golf carts or caddies and clubhouses, golf shops, restaurants, bag rooms and locker rooms must stay closed. Groups are restricted to no more than four players and golfers must stay in their car until 15 minutes before their tee time and must return to their car immediately after they're done playing.

There had been a growing call for Governor Charlie Baker to open golf courses, as many claim players can easily socially distance.

During his daily press briefing, Baker said he made the decision to allow the change after consulting with surrounding states.

"In this particular case with regard to golf, we basically took a model that was being used in several of the states around us, that we thought was consistent with what our concerns were about it in the first place, and applied it," said Baker.

Baker said he will likely take a similar steps when it comes to allowing other industries to reopen.

"I think you're going to see a fair amount of uniformity between and among the states in the northeast around how they handle these things," said Baker. "They may not all happen at the same time because, as we've also talked about before, we're in different places with respect to where we are in the virus."

MassGolf, the state's golf association announced the re-opening of courses on Twitter, Thursday morning.

On their website, MassGolf posted this guidance from the state on how the courses can reopen for now:

"Golf courses are not essential businesses and cannot have employees working on-premise. Notwithstanding this restriction, essential services, such as groundskeeping to avoid hazardous conditions and security, provided by employees, contractors, or vendors are permitted. Private operator of courses may permit individuals access to the property so long as there are no gatherings of any kind, appropriate social distancing of six feet between individuals is strictly followed, and the business operator and golfers abide by the specific guidelines for golf courses. Municipalities may decide to open municipal courses under these guidelines, if they so choose."

Jesse Menachem, CEO of Mass Golf, told WBZ-TV it is critical golfers and clubs follow the established guidelines.

"The message really needs to be that they have to follow these guidelines from A to Z," said Menachem. "It could take one mishap, one facility allowing carts, one golfer not following these rules and it could unfortunately ruin for the rest of us. So we want to be respectful. We're confident our golfers can be respectful. It's a game of integrity, honesty, and we follow the rules."

The news came as two courses in central Massachusetts, Kettle Brook Golf Club in Paxton and Wachusett Country Club in West Boylston, reportedly told members Wednesday they could start booking tee times for Friday. That's ten days before May 18, the day the the non-essential business order is set to expire in Massachusetts.

Wachusett Country Club golf
Wachusett Country Club in West Boylston. (WBZ-TV)

Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said city courses will open Saturday under state guidelines.

"Golf is generally a sport where you can practice social and physical distancing," Walsh said. "Just continue to do that. Show up. Golf. Leave. No hanging around the parking lot. We just can't afford to have that."

MassGolf provided these specific guidelines for golfers and courses:

• Security personnel can be delineated by each club (ex. A pro and the head starter) and will be present to enforce social distancing. There can be no other employees working at the recreational component of the golf operation.
• All staff must wear face coverings while on property.
• Course facilities including but not limited to the clubhouse, golf shop, restaurant, bag room and locker room must remain closed.
• No caddies allowed.
• No golf carts allowed.
• Push carts may be used. Players must either carry their own bag or use a push cart.
• All golfers must maintain proper social distancing of at least 6 feet at all times.
• Groups of players are restricted to no more than 4 players at one time.
• Members-only clubs can allow guests as determined by the security personnel on the golf course.
• Private clubs that allow non-members to make reservations can do so at their discretion.
• Maintenance personnel are permitted to work on the golf course.
• Tee Time Policy must be 15 minutes between groups.
• Golfers must stay in their car until 15 minutes before their tee time and must return to their car immediately following play.
• Online and remote payment options must be utilized.
• All golfers must use their own golf clubs. Sharing golf clubs or rental golf clubs is not allowed.
• Flagsticks must remain in the hole. Hole liners must be raised so picking a ball out of the hole doesn't occur.
• Bunker rakes must be removed, and ball washers must be removed or covered.
• Practice putting green, driving range, and chipping areas must be closed.
• Facilities must have readily accessible hand sanitizer.

For more information on golf rules during the coronavirus pandemic, visit the USGA web site.

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