Coronavirus impact: Golfers react to new changes as more courses reopen on Monday amid COVID-19 crisis

SAN FRANCISCO -- Pretty as it looks, there is nothing more depressing to players than a closed golf course.

But with COVID-19, most California courses have been closed for weeks. It's been tough on management, too.

"It's a learning experience for all of us," said Patrick Ahern of the Bay Club in Marin County. As courses plan to open next week, they are adjusting and learning to interpret the latest musings of Governor Gavin Newsom, or trying, anyway.

RELATED: Newsom orders Orange County beaches to close after seeing weekend crowds

"Things like, uh, golf, and whether that is appropriate," said Governor Newsom in a briefing today. "Bay Area put out additional guidance on that. That is a space loosening in up again with modifications and conditions," he said.

While courses may open on Monday, Governor Newsom recommends courses allow single players only, with no carts.

The single players part is new, but not an order, yet, said Laine Hendricks, speaking for Marin County Health. "If the governor's announcement today (Thursday) becomes a legal order that is stronger than what we have in place, then yes, we would implement those things," she said.

Across six Bay Area counties, golf courses have been doing their best to open while following guidelines, which change from region to region.

Napa County opened last week. There, we saw how courses turned their holes upside-down so that players don't need to lift flagsticks.

RELATED: 6 Bay Area counties relax some shelter-in-place restrictions; here are changes starting May 4

Rakes in bunkers? Gone. Expect that at most courses. Ball washers will disappear, as well.

At the Richmond Country Club, they'll be allowing only one player at a time in the clubhouse, along with other social distancing measures.

General Manager Ralph Freightman has been in constant contact with Contra Costa County, and exercising patience. "The county for us has always been straight-forward. You can't golf. You can golf. Yesterday he said yes we can, the state was saying no we couldn't," he said.

Technically speaking, golf is a simple game. Some also say it's a four letter word.

Or, these days, at least, inspiring a few.

Walnut Creek's Boundary Oak Golf Course announced it would reopen Monday with "appropriate operational and sanitary practices," including limiting golf carts to one rider, reducing driving range capacity by half and removing ball washers from the course to reduce opportunities for viral touch points. "We ask that all of our customers assist in strict adherence to these standards as violations could result in the closing of the golf course," Boundary Oak's management and staff said in a statement announcing the reopening. "Any customer not following the rules will be asked to leave the course immediately."

Other golf courses have transitioned to public use while closed due to the pandemic. The 145-acre Presidio Golf Course has been open as a public park for about a month, allowing visitors to practice physical distancing while getting outdoors.

"We've been trying not to publicize it too much," Presidio Trust spokeswoman Lisa Petrie said, noting that pedestrian crowds have begun to swell toward unsafe levels and bring their dogs, which is prohibited, in recent days. The course will remain open as a public park over the weekend.

The Presidio Trust, the federal agency that operates Presidio National Park, plans to reopen the course and its driving range for golfers Monday. Golfers will be required to book and pay for tee times over the phone and various oft-touched items around the course like flags, rakes and golf
carts will be removed or unavailable.

"There won't be anything to touch," Petrie said.

In addition, every other stall at the driving range will be open to allow golfers to distance themselves. The course's clubhouse, restaurants and pro shop will remain closed. Some additional safety protocols for the course's reopening are still being worked out, according to Petrie.

Riverside and Napa counties have already modified their shelter-in-place orders to allow golf course activities, albeit in more limited numbers and with strict health and safety guidelines.

While golf is not explicitly permitted in the state's shelter-in-place order as a vital industry, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state plans to continue evolving its guidelines to allow for low-risk industries to gradually resume operating.

"There are a number of other parts of the state that do provide for low-risk golfing already so that's not completely inconsistent," Newsom said during his Wednesday afternoon briefing on the virus. "What (the six counties) put out today was very broadly consistent with the state guidelines and they've been incredible partners."
TPC Harding Park, located adjacent to Lake Merced in San Francisco, did not respond to a request for comment on whether it would reopen in light of the revised order.

Harding Park was originally scheduled to host the 102nd PGA Championship golf tournament May 14-17. The tournament has since been rescheduled to Aug. 3-9.

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