Despite golf courses being closed under Gov. Tony Evers’ “safer at home” order, Dunn County in northwestern Wisconsin is allowing them to open as long as they follow distancing guidelines and patrons have paid a membership at the course.
A letter from the Dunn County Sheriff’s Office, which was posted on social media by the Menomonie Golf and Country Club, describes those guidelines and says that courses following them are not in violation of the Governor’s order.
Golf courses are not specifically mentioned in Evers’ order, but in an email to State Journal reporter Mitchell Schmidt last week, Evers spokeswoman Melissa Baldauff listed golf courses as businesses that would close. The order was announced as a measure to slow the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus. Golf courses are allowed to maintain their grounds as part of essential businesses under the order.
Melissa Hughes, secretary of the Wisconsin Economic Development Corp., on Thursday responded to questions regarding why golf courses are deemed nonessential businesses, and therefore required to stay closed during the outbreak.
“Golf is a social game,” Hughes said. “There’s an aspect of clubhouses and bathrooms that just have made us say that golf courses are going to stay closed for the time being.”
The letter — dated March 31 and signed by Menomonie Police Chief Eric M. Atkinson, Dunn County Sheriff Kevin Bygd and Dunn County Public Health Director KT Gallagher — details the distancing guidelines and says the three departments have conferred regarding golf courses.
“We understand that times are difficult for golf course proprietors and the rules imposed by the state may be confusing,” the letter reads. “It is our goal to assist you and other members of the community in understand what all of our responsibilities are to help prevent the community spread of COVID-19, while trying to preserve the freedoms we often take for granted.”
The guidelines include many measures that courses across the state were either implementing or suggested to implement by multiple statewide golf associations. They include:
- Accepting only online/phone sales and scheduling tee times over the phone
- Closing clubhouses
- Restricting restaurants to carry-out only
- Prohibiting renting course-owned golf carts
- Removing cups and pins on greens
- Limiting gatherings of people on courses to nine or less
The letter also states local law enforcement is responsible for ensuring the guidelines are followed.
"What our courses are doing is allowing their members to show up and walk and golf the course," Bygd said Thursday afternoon. "As far as I'm concerned, if they take online sales of yearly memberships, I don't see a violation."
Bygd also cited statute 11-C of Evers' order, which details essential activities that are permitted. Those include outdoor activities such as visiting public and state parks, walking, biking, running, and more, so long as people comply with social distancing requirements.
"Does that mean you can't do it with a golf club in your hand?" Bygd said.
The Wisconsin PGA, Wisconsin Golf Association and other organizations have been speaking with state representatives over the past week in an attempt to get Evers’ order to allow golf courses to be open across the state. A petition on change.org asking for courses to be opened had more than 60,000 signatures as of Thursday afternoon.
Bygd said he expects to hear from Evers' office soon. He also said it becomes a "danger zone" if courses try to take advantage of the county's decision by selling one-day memberships at rates around the average greens fees. But if courses maintain their grounds, following distancing guidelines, and want to allow members to golf, Bygd said he doesn't know where a violation occurs.
"I think this will open the door for golf courses across the state or this will shut down our local courses," Bygd said. "My philosophy is, 'What am I going to cite somebody for? If they're operating the way our local courses are now, what is my enforcement?'"
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