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Why golf courses are open during COVID-19 pandemic

Courses can be open to players, but they must follow specific rules.

COLORADO, USA — The state has given guidance to golf courses on how to comply with the stay-at-home order and still operate.

On Wednesday morning, the state provided guidance saying that maintenance of facilities is approved as essential, but to be open for playing required rules that must be followed.

"As a practical matter, the most important thing is social distancing and complying with the state and local directives on distancing," the state wrote in a guidance email. "Functionally, that means no collecting money, no sharing of golf carts, no touching of bags, clubs, balls or anything where the virus could be transmitted. Operators would need to get express approval from a local public authority that they comply with all social distancing directives in the current state and any local orders in effect. The burden of compliance is really to the operators, and they could be shut down, which is why it's so important they work closely with their public health departments," 

Denver public golf courses remain closed. City of Thornton golf courses are closed too.

Nearby, Riverdale Golf Course in Brighton is open.

On Wednesday, there were enough parked cars that you might have mistaken it for a grocery store parking lot.

"We believe that this is an incredibly safe way to get out, get some fresh air for a few hours," said Adams County spokesman Jim Siedlecki. "You're not touching anything else. You get back in your car and you go home. Know that when you look around this golf course, there are no people packed together."

The golf course starter made the same announcement with every call to the first tee box.

"Attention golfers," said the starter. "Please maintain your social distancing at all times while on the premises. We would like to keep the golf course open." 

Adams County implemented new golf course rules including:

  • Pay online
  • Driving range closed
  • No carts
  • Don't touch the flagsticks
  • Cups turned upside down, so ball easily retrievable

"Tri-County Health has reviewed everything and they believe that if this is going to be an acceptable use, our approach is one that others should model," said Siedlecki.

"We're OK with golf courses staying in business, as long as they practice appropriate social distancing," said Dr. John Douglas, executive director of Tri-County Health Department.

Tri-County Health has provided golf courses in Arapahoe and Douglas Counties with similar rules adopted by Adams County.

Last week, when Tri-County issued its own stay-at-home order, it specifically closed golf courses. Once the statewide stay-at-home order was issued, Tri-County rescinded the local one. The statewide order keeps the greens in a gray area.

RELATED: Mayor Hancock: 'Plan on' Denver's stay-at-home order going through April 30

RELATED: Several counties rescind stay-at-home orders, adopt state orders; here are counties with their own order

"I clearly get there may be some mixed messaging, 'look at all those people, they're not at home, why aren't they doing what they're supposed to be doing?'" said Douglas. "This is absolutely not a science. It's an art of figuring out how we identify things. Staying cooped up, mental health, it's an issue. We're trying to find ways of, I wouldn't say creatively, but flexibly acknowledging that."

During his news conference on Wednesday, Gov. Jared Polis (D-Colorado) repeatedly encouraged people to stay inside.

"To save lives you're staying at home."

"Stay at home to reduce the spread of the virus."

"To honor those who are working hard every day is to stay at home to the best of your ability."

By 7 p.m. Wednesday night, a spokesman for the governor had not responded to questions asking why the statewide order isn't more explicit with golf courses, and how golfing is different than skiing. One of the first emergency executive orders by Polis was to shut down ski resorts.

Besides non-golfers emailing wanting to know why golf courses are open and how golf is essential, hardly anyone associated with golf would talk on the record.

One well-known Colorado golf writer has written a yet-to-be-published opinion piece entitled: Golfers should miss this tee time. In it, he wrote, "We need to care more about the game itself than anyone's right to play it at this historic and dangerous time."

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