Golfers start petition to open golf courses

  • FILE - In this April 11, 2019, file photo, the flag on the 13th hole blows in the wind during the first round for the Masters golf tournament in Augusta, Ga. Augusta National decided Friday, March 13, 2020, to postpone the Masters because of the spread of the coronavirus. Club chairman Fred Ridley says he hopes postponing the event puts Augusta National in the best position to host the Masters and its other two events at some later date. Ridley did not say when it would be held.(AP... David J. Phillip

  • The state’s golf industry is facing a stiff challenge this season with courses closed due to the coronavirus pandemic. ELIZABETH FRANTZ / Monitor file

Keene Sentinel
Published: 4/3/2020 10:20:46 AM

With the stay-at-home order issued by Gov. Chris Sununu, only essential work throughout the state is permitted to continue. For the golf community, this puts a pause to the season that was just about to ramp up.

While no one can play, course maintenance work is considered essential, which means it will be permitted during Emergency Order No. 17, which is in effect through May 4.

Golfers throughout the state have come together and set up a petition asking Sununu to reconsider his decision to close the state’s golf courses. The petition was started by Peter Luff, who is the son of Richard Luff, owner of Sagamore Golf Inc. The title of the petition is “Let New Hampshire Golf” and states in its description that “golf by the nature of the game and with limited modifications can comply completely with the intent of the ‘Stay at Home’ designation.”

Throughout the country, courses have taken numerous steps to ensure play can continue during the coronavirus pandemic, taking into consideration the social distancing that is required. These measures include limiting or eliminating golf cart access completely, not putting flag sticks out on the course, not allowing access to bunker rakes – ways that limit individuals from touching an object somebody else has already been in contact with.

While there are different ways to enable social distancing on the course, it may not matter with the uncertainty surrounding the 2020 golf season.

“There’s a lot of things going on to try and mitigate it,” Spofford’s Pine Grove Springs owner Bob Maibusch said, “but if you’re not open, you don’t worry about any of those things.”

Some courses throughout the country have continued operations despite the cases and deaths that have come with coronavirus. TPC Sawgrass in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla., one of the most renowned courses in the country and host to The Players Championship – considered by many to be golf’s fifth major – remained open as of Wednesday afternoon, this is despite the tournament being canceled after one day of play this year.

When asked about the decision to continue operations, a representative from TPC Sawgrass stated nobody would be available to comment on the decision. This came following the news that Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis had issued a stay-at-home order for the state.

While this may raise questions, the state of Florida has deemed golf courses as an essential business, allowing operations to continue. Arizona, Ohio, North Carolina and South Carolina are other states that have done the same. With the golf season being much shorter in northern states, including New Hampshire, the discrepancies and emphasis on golf course operations throughout the country is highlighted during a time like this.

“It’s such a huge income generator for (Florida),” Maibusch said, “and I’m sure in terms of lobbying that the golf industry in Florida is better prepared to approach the politicians on this than a state like New Hampshire. They probably have a lot more leverage than we do.”

Leverage is important and that’s what the petition is hoping to accomplish. With more than 7,300 people signed on so far, there is still hope that by June and July – the busiest months of the season – Granite Staters may see players returning to the state’s golf courses.

However, until there is clarity on this, golf courses will continue to face challenges; for example, how memberships and monthly dues will change as a result. Members at golf courses may not want to continue paying monthly dues with uncertainty surrounding the season. The likelihood of requests for discounts is also a possibility if courses don’t open in a time frame that pleases golfers.

Another issue is that golf courses generate income from restaurants and bars on their premises, which for now will likely remain closed. So with only partial revenue being generated, this season is set to challenge golf courses financially, and it already has.

The International Golf Club and Resort in Bolton, Mass., notified its members that the club was closing permanently. As one of the more well-known golf clubs throughout New England, it was big news in the golf community and an indicator that even the most established courses could be facing a stiff test this season.

But then club owners emailed its members last week notifying them that being “permanently closed” wasn’t the case, just adding to the confusion surrounding golf.

The coming weeks will be crucial for both public and private golf courses as questions loom larger around the 2020 season.

“The biggest issue is going to be cash flow, and I don’t think it’s any secret that golf courses haven’t been flourishing much, if at all, over the past 10 years,” Maibusch said. “So, this could be the final nail in the coffin for some of them.”

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