Courses Closed for Coronavirus, But Golfers are Playing Through

Golf courses in Massachusetts are closed to help slow the spread of coronavirus, but plenty of people are still hitting the fairways, albeit with social distancing etiquette in mind 

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A picturesque 60-degree Friday in March — under normal circumstances, a day like that would guarantee people would be playing hooky from work and heading to the golf course.

With cabin fever running high, a lot of people are looking for an outlet to get outdoors. So it’s no wonder NBC10 Boston saw a steady stream of golfers teeing off at Leo Martin Memoria Golf Course in Weston.

"We are doing our best to stay sane," one golfer remarked with a laugh.

"I think people still need to have recreation for mental health," another golfer added.

As people passed by on their way to the tee box at the course, which is operated by the Department of Conservation and Recreation, they told us it was an opportunity to get their outdoor fix while also obeying social distancing rules.

"We are staying a good six feet away from each other," a golfer explained. "Don't touch the pin. Don't touch anyone else's ball. It's a lot better than being stuck in the house."

But there’s a wrinkle: The course wasn't open for business. All the people who showed up played for free.

We found a small sign hanging on the clubhouse, letting people know that the course and driving range were closed because of COVID-19. But as the parking lot filled with cars, it didn't seem like a lot of people were too worried about teeing off.

Busy parking lot at Leo J. Martin Memorial Course in Weston

"There's no one here to give money to," a golfer remarked.

A DCR spokeswoman said the agency is evaluating when to reopen its golf courses, but didn't respond to our question about whether there's concern about golfers continuing to play amidst the closure.

A few miles away, the members-only Needham Golf Club was a different scene. The fairways sat empty and the greens were missing their flagsticks. Signs reading, "Course closed," greeted anyone driving by the front clubhouse.

Tim Hood, the superintendent at the Needham Golf Club, told us that once he gets the green light from the government, the course will open with some new coronavirus-related rules of etiquette.

They include not using a rake in the bunker, removing ball washers, not allowing golf carts and placing a PVC pipe in the cup to relax putting requirements.

"It's hands-free so you're not touching anything," Hood said.

When Gov. Charlie Baker released his list of "essential" businesses that could remain open amid the coronavirus outbreak, golf courses were not included.

"Unfortunately, we are in a holding pattern right now," explained Jesse Menachem, the executive director of Mass Golf, a nonprofit golf association.

Menachem said courses were later able to get exemptions for maintenance work during the busy spring growing season.

"It's tough because there is a way to enjoy the game and have that social distancing," Menachem said. "But at the same time, our industry wants to be realistic that there are some bigger things going on in the world right now."

Based on our observations, it seems a lot of golfers aren't willing to wait for a government directive.

We spotted people playing at the DCR-operated course in Weston, walking the fairways at a private club in Newton, teeing off from a public course in Brookline, and putting on the green at a nine-hole private club in Westwood.

"That's not something we are endorsing," Menachem said when asked about people continuing to play. "We want to wait for that 'all clear' and make sure people are doing the right thing."

Westwood's health director, Jared Orsini, told NBC10 Boston public health officials are primarily concerned about lax social distancing or the virus being transmitted through common equipment like flagsticks, rakes or the player's own golf ball.

"Although we are aware that golf can be a solitary activity under certain circumstances, there may be conditions present at a golf course which could allow for the virus to be transmitted," Orsini said. "We would encourage golfers to avoid playing golf at this time."

Despite those concerns, golfers we interviewed insisted it is an activity they can enjoy responsibly.

"I'm in the woods most of the time anyway, so that's a safe place," a golfer joked.

Before teeing off, another golfer said he hopes the governor understands the desire to seek relief from the stressful environment surrounding COVID-19.

"Tell him, 'I'm sorry,' but I'm having a great time,'" he said before driving the ball down the fairway.

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