BANGOR – Just as many golf courses across the state were implementing social distancing policies, the state deemed courses as non-essential businesses, closing them for the month of April. The Maine State Golf Association is looking to over turn that decision.
The beginning of spring is a key time for golf courses across Maine; many southern Maine courses open for business, and courses in central and northern Maine scheduled to soon follow suit. Now, the courses are empty. “We had had clarification that we would be allowed to operate, then when the list came out, we were on the non-essential list so it was a little bit of surprise for us” said Maine State Golf Association executive director Brian Bickford.
Governor Janet Mills’ office announced on march 31 that golf courses would be among non-essential businesses to close in Maine for one month starting April 1, as a part of a directive against non-essential travel meant to slow the spread of COVID-19. Golf courses have previously been deemed neither essential or non-essential. “We were trying to abide by a set of principles, and regulations, and CDC guidelines and things like that to streamline our process, to make sure we were compliant,” said Bickford
Bickford says courses across the state had closed clubhouses and dining rooms, removed carts and all communal objects on courses, but says their efforts went largely unnoticed by the state. “You can make all the changes in the world but if no one knows about it, it’s hard to say that you’ve done anything,” said Bickford.
The Maine Department of Economic and Community Development plays a major role in determining the essential business list, and said in a statement that “golf courses represent an area of inevitable congregation, making it difficult to implement effective physical distancing.”
Bickford says the MSGA is taking notes from states like Connecticut, which reopened courses during a stay at home mandate. The organization is hoping to show the ability for member courses to physically distance golfers through online payment and limits on tee times.
“Connecticut had gone through a multi-step process to show that their golf courses were operating safely…And I think that’s a very similar approach to what we would like to take,” said Bickford.
There is currently no set timeline to re-open golf courses in Maine, though Bickford said Monday the MSGA is organizing an ad hoc committee of health care officials and local leaders to help establish potential guidelines for courses.