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Mass. golf courses allowed to reopen amid coronavirus pandemic — but with restrictions

Charlie White drove the ball on the first tee at Brookmeadow Country Club Thursday afternoon in Canton.
Charlie White drove the ball on the first tee at Brookmeadow Country Club Thursday afternoon in Canton.John Tlumacki/Globe Staff


Golf is back in business in Massachusetts.

As of Thursday morning, Massachusetts joined the 49 other states in allowing golfers to return to the links.

There are restrictions — including no golf carts, extended tee-time intervals of 15 minutes, no practice putting or driving range use and social distancing of at least 6 feet between golfers — but the state’s decision allows the 360 private and public courses that have been shut down the last 45 days to reopen.

Governor Charlie Baker said Thursday that Massachusetts joined a coalition of Northeast states to discuss the reopening of businesses shut down by the coronavirus pandemic, and that Massachusetts leaders wanted to avoid implementing policy that was not in line with nearby states.

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“We basically took a model that was being used in several of the states around us and we felt was consistent with what our concerns were about it in the first place, and applied it," Baker said.

“We’re just happy that it happened," said Mike Higgins, executive director and CEO of the New England PGA. "The golfers in our state are happy. I know the PGA professionals in our state are excited to get back to work in Massachusetts.

“Certainly the restrictions and guidelines are not what everybody hoped or expected, but it’s a start and it’s a great start. As things improve with regard to COVID cases and we can show the state that golf can be safe, I think eventually they’ll start freeing those up and loosening the guidelines a little bit in time.”

Jesse Menachem, executive director and CEO of Mass Golf, a nonprofit that promotes amateur tournaments and provides handicapping data to 85,000 members, said he was “ecstatic” about the news, which will serve as a relief valve for the state’s devoted and passionate community of golfers.

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“On the golfers’ side of things, it offers a tremendous relief opportunity, recreational opportunity that can be done safely,” said Menachem. “For those that have been cooped up these last six-plus weeks, it’s an additional recreational activity that’s going to prove beneficial from the health side of things, from a mental and physical standpoint. And then for facilities, it gets our season restarted again."

“Safety is more important than a round of golf, no question about that,” said David Southworth, owner of Willowbend Country Club in Mashpee and Renaissance Golf Club in Haverhill. "But at the end of the day, golfing is something that if done right and done with these restrictions that have been put in place, it’s pretty safe as it relates to social distance and those types of things.”

The decision by Baker came one day after the governors of the other two holdout states, Vermont and Maryland, announced their intentions to reopen golf courses.

Menachem was part of a group of golf industry representatives who met with Baker’s advisory reopening panel Saturday.

“This level is the level that we believe is the safest and most appropriate level for them to be out at this point in time," Baker said. "People can choose to pursue it if they like to, or not.”

There are still economic factors in play that could make the Massachusetts reopening a progression rather than an immediate resumption, said Menachem.

“There’s going to be some facilities [where] it may not be entirely worthwhile to open up at this juncture; the revenue may not outweigh the expense side,” said Menachem.

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Menachem said the prohibition on using carts is one of the easements Mass Golf will be looking for, as well as shortening the 15-minute tee-time interval. The industry standard for tee-time intervals is 8-11 minutes. Menachem said his group pitched a 12-minute interval to the governor’s panel over the weekend.

“The tee-time interval we’ll have to work on as things ease up," he said. “That allows more golfers to be on the property at any given time, and that in turn drives more revenues.

“We felt 12 minutes was more than enough to space golfers. Don’t get me wrong — we are pleased with this opening; but we are going to need to continue to work at these areas in the short term.”

Not having golf carts is a limiting factor for those who actually rely upon them.

“There’s older members with physical restrictions that prevent them from walking, and there’s also handicapped members with handicapped carts," said Southworth. "This puts them in a tough situation, so it would be nice if some of those things would be looked at, and I’m sure some of them will be looked at relatively soon.”

Some courses wasted no time in reopening.

TPC Boston in Norton opened at noon Thursday, and by the end of the day, general manager Dan Waslewski expected 60-70 golfers to play through.

“Not our normal day of tee times, but people were excited to come back out," said Waslewski. “It didn’t take long to get people playing.”

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“We have masks and and gloves and hand sanitizers available for everybody," said Southworth, "and we’re making sure people do have a mask when they return to the clubhouse area and gathering spot.

"If you’re out in the middle of the first fairway — or in my case, out in the woods looking for my ball — I don’t know if I need a mask.”

Joe Marin, the Franklin golfer behind the online petition “Please Let Massachusetts Golf” that collected more than 42,000 signatures, expected to be out at Franklin Country Club early Friday.

“A lot of people do feel negatively about it,” said Marin, "because they see it as a game and that we kind of just want to go out there and hit a ball around.

“But I’m pretty happy that they did it because I perceive it as more than a game. It’s both a reprieve to get out of our houses and get some fresh air, as well as we can start generating revenues for these clubs that they’re losing.”

Franklin CC president Tom Mercer spoke with the local board of health to make sure he was in compliance with all of Baker’s orders as the private club prepared to open Friday morning.

“We had a few things to do on the course, getting the cups, and the plastic things inside the cups so there’s no touch, and getting the greens cut and rolled, sanitizing stations in place,’’ said Mercer.

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He and his members were eager to hit the links.

“My phone’s been ringing off the hook,’’ he said. “We do have a full tee sheet starting at 7 a.m., and we’re off and running. We have a lot of members that are very happy campers.”

However, the news of golfers finding their happy place did not sit well with Jim Borghesani, who speaks for Massachusetts recreational marijuana enthusiasts, a constituency that remains blocked from frequenting its legal sources of recreation.

“I find it striking that the governor is willing to open golf courses which may bring some therapy to some people in a very limited way and yet he is still against opening adult-use cannabis stores which bring therapy to people in a very legitimate and proven way,” said Borghesani, a cannabis industry consultant.

The last full report on the Massachusetts golf economy was conducted eight years ago and showed that its direct impact to the state was $1.7 billion annually. When tourism, retail sales, real estate, and goods and services are included, the impact grew to $2.7 billion.

As of 2012, the golf industry meant 25,000 jobs and nearly $800 million in wage income in the state.

Joe Beditz, president and CEO of the National Golf Foundation, said the total economic input in Massachusetts has probably increased to more than $3 billion.

“It’s a powerful economic engine for the state,” said Beditz on Wednesday.

Scott Thurston of the Globe staff contributed to this report.



Michael Silverman can be reached at michael.silverman@globe.com. Follow him on Twitter: @MikeSilvermanBB