Josh Small tees off while Matt Burgess, left, Eric D’Elia and Joe Doucette look on at Nonesuch River Golf Club on March 21. Nonesuch was one of the first Maine golf courses to open this spring, using new guidelines to maintain social distancing, but now all Maine course have been closed because of the state’s stay-at-home order. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Golf courses across Maine, both public and private, were closed Thursday as Gov. Janet Mills’ stay-at-home order went into effect.

The sport is deemed a nonessential outdoor activity according to Mills’ executive order, but golf professionals in the state hope they can change her mind in the coming weeks.

Brian Bickford, executive director of the Maine State Golf Association, said he will form an “ad-hoc committee” to design a plan demonstrating that the sport – with significant modifications and precautions – can be a safe and healthy recreational outlet for Mainers during the coronavirus outbreak.

Bickford said he believes the plan would need to include a set of statewide rules on social distancing and a method of enforcing them.

“We were on the nonessential list and we were fine with this because the governor had identified that we needed to eliminate all face-to-face contact, and courses were doing that,” Bickford said. “We don’t mind being on the nonessential list, but we feel we can meet the criteria of being a safe park.”

Nonesuch River Golf Club was using PVC pipe and raised cups to prevent golfers from having to pick golf balls out of the cup, and also was asking players to avoid touching the flags. The Maine State Golf Association says a statewide set of operational rules during the coronavirus outbreak might be a good step toward allowing courses to reopen. Ben McCanna/Staff Photographer

Prior to Mills’ stay-at-home order, several southern Maine courses had been open. Most had taken significant cautionary steps to reduce touch points and face-to-face contact.

“We were trying our best,” said Dan Hourihan, the owner at Nonesuch River Golf Club. “No food and beverage, no driving range, no carts, purely walking the golf course. We thought that would do it. Maybe if we try again and institute statewide restriction to enforce it … we were supplying jobs and providing a place for people to get outside.”

To Hourihan, having less than 100 golfers spread over a large tract of land is a good example of proper social distancing combined with recreational activity.

Mills’ order allows for residents to engage “in outdoor exercise activities, such as fishing, walking, hiking, running or biking, but only in compliance with the gathering restriction … and all applicable social distancing guidance published by the U.S. and Maine Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.”

Hourihan said he was “kind of stunned” that golf was excluded from the list of allowed recreational activities.

“Not everyone fishes and not everyone plays golf. So you’re taking care of a segment of the population and ignoring another segment,” Hourihan said.

As of Thursday, 35 states were allowing at least some golf to be played, according to the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America. Of those, 24 have some form of state-mandated “stay-at-home” order in effect.

Vermont, Massachusetts and New Hampshire have closed their golf courses. Connecticut and Rhode Island are allowing golf to be played.

Bickford said there is understandable concern that if Maine were to open its courses, players from other New England states, particularly Massachusetts, would cross the border to play.

Bickford said he hopes courses in Maine can be open on or about May 1.

“Most courses in Maine (were) opening April 15 to early May anyway,” Bickford said. “May 1 could be an OK date, but if we get beyond that, it starts to hurt with increasing (financial) concern.”


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