New Hampshire allowed its golf courses to reopen Monday after nearly two months closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. That meant all 50 states have allowed golfers to pick up their clubs again — but not yet the entire country.
The District trails the 50 states in allowing golf to return, making it one of the last major jurisdictions in the country where courses remain closed this week.
The press secretary for D.C. Mayor Muriel Bowser told The Washington Times that the mayor will “make an announcement later this week” regarding golf’s future as an allowable outdoor activity.
That doesn’t guarantee that a reopening is imminent; the mayor could announce that golf can resume immediately, or that it will be part of “Phase 1” of the District’s reopening plan at a later date. It could be included in an announcement about the District’s stay-at-home order, which currently expires after Friday but may be extended.
For now, the District’s golf lovers and those who work in the business are confused over why it’s taking so long.
“I think you can see all 50 states have reached the same conclusion, that the benefits of having outdoor recreation outweigh the risks and states have been comfortable with the protocols that have been put in place,” said Paul Killebrew, vice president of GolfDC.
GolfDC, which manages the District’s three courses, currently displays a message on its website saying that “given the Mayor’s requirement of sustained decline in new [coronavirus] cases,” their best estimate was a May 30 reopening date. It also asks golfers to urge the mayor via the ReOpenDC Committee’s feedback form to allow golf to return.
“Some [golfers] have been quite vocal,” Killebrew said. “We’ve got very loyal customers at GolfDC. They’re eager to get back on the golf course. And they’re confused, honestly. It’s just hard to figure out what’s going on and who’s making the decision and what criteria they’re using.”
It gets trickier considering that the District’s courses — East Potomac, Langston and Rock Creek Park — are all under the stewardship of the National Park Service. The tandem powers at play mean that the mayor can list which outdoor activities are allowable during the pandemic, while the NPS ultimately controls when the courses can open.
East Potomac closed March 22 when the District cut off access to roads on the Tidal Basin where it is located; the NPS had Langston close on March 28; and the course at Rock Creek Park hadn’t yet opened for the season when the pandemic hit, Mr. Killebrew said.
The mayor briefly listed golf and tennis as allowable outdoor activities in early April, prompting GolfDC to prepare to open courses with coronavirus-related precautions and measures, Mr. Killebrew said. He said the NPS approved GolfDC’s safety plan, which included not allowing golfers to use carts or enter pro shops.
But the night before two courses planned to open on April 8, the NPS stepped in and informed GolfDC not to do so, saying that the mayor planned to disallow golf again. The mayor then removed golf and tennis from the recreational activities list April 9.
Killebrew said the closures have been a “disaster” for business, with about a quarter of GolfDC’s yearly revenue coming in April and May. The group estimates its employees are losing about 2,150 combined hours of work per week.
He also argued that District residents who want to play golf are easily able to travel to Maryland, which reopened its courses Thursday, or Virginia, which never issued a statewide order for courses to shut down — making the closures a moot point.
While every state is now allowing golf in some form, a National Golf Foundation survey found major cities like New York and Chicago, which face high concentrations of COVID-19 cases, join the District in keeping their courses closed. The District has reported 6,485 cases of COVID-19 and 336 deaths through Monday, out of a population of 700,000 people.
Golfers have argued that the sport can be played at a safe social distance with no shared equipment, making it an ideal activity for exercise during the pandemic. Last week, Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan announced golf, tennis, fishing, boating and camping would again be permissible outdoor recreational activities in the nearby state.