Cuomo backtracks ruling that golf is ’non-essential’

Some local golf courses opened this week -- after being deemed ‘non-essential’ on April 9 -- when Gov. Andrew Cuomo on Saturday updated his executive order to allow courses to open under specific guidelines.

Per the Empire State Development website: “Golf courses are not essential and cannot have employees working on-premises; notwithstanding this restriction, essential services, such as groundskeeping to avoid hazardous conditions and security, provided by employees, contractors, or vendors are permitted and private operators may permit individuals access to the property so long as there are no gatherings of any kind and appropriate social distancing of six feet between individuals is strictly abided.”

Bath Country Club and Corning Country Club are currently open to members only. Willowcreek is open to members and non-members, while the Soaring Eagles and Indian Hills courses remain closed.

Local courses say they are abiding by the guidelines outlined by the CDC and state to promote safety and social distancing.

Golfers that are not adhering to guidelines will face consequences, said Corning Country Club head golf pro Matt Jaynes.

“We can see most of the course from the golf shop,” Jaynes told The Leader. “Anything we see as inappropriate, we’ll go out and have a conversation. If it continues, they will be asked to leave.”

Masks are not mandatory to wear on the golf course, but are encouraged.

Some clubs have marked signs on the course that encourage golfers to maintain social distancing and discourage loitering.

Golfers may call ahead to order any food to have it ready for them, for takeout only. Golfers are not permitted to stay on the patio or socialize after their round.

At Corning Country Club and Willowcreek, the use of golf carts is prohibited. At Bath Country Club, carts are available to members only, according to the club’s website.

The driving range at Willowcreek is closed temporarily due to the use of buckets of balls that are reused and could potential spread infection.

“We’re constantly trying to find disposable ways to open the driving range,” said Adam Sadler, general manager at Willowcreek.

At some golf courses around the area, styrofoam is being used inside the cups, so the ball doesn’t drop all the way into the cup. That way, the flagstick can stay in and doesn’t have to be touched. Rakes are also not permitted at any sand traps to prevent possible transmission of the coronavirus.

Permitted employees clean the golf courses daily.

After the decision to close golf courses on April 9, many did not expect to see the sport coming back so soon.

“I did not think it would come back this quickly,” said Sadler. “I’m glad to see it come back. However, just because they brought it back, doesn’t mean we’ll have it forever. That’s why following CDC guidelines is so important.”

While the weather in April has been less than stellar, courses are using this time as a trial run, without much traffic on the course.

Regardless of coming back with restrictions, the sport has an impact on locals and can be a form of exercise and enjoyment during the quarantine period.

“It's recreation,” said Sadler. “I’ve got people that this is the only source of outside and recreation that they have. It’s not only for golfers. It’s like going out and walking a dog.”

Willowcreek recently began allowing members and non-members to walk the course for no charge, although a tee time is still required.

Even with courses opening back up, local operators understand the severity of the situation at hand.

“We fully support the idea of flattening the curve and the seriousness of the pandemic,” said Jaynes. “We want to do everything we can to get past this.”