Golf Courses Get Green Light; Seaside Links Opens Sunday

By: Kat Szmit

Topics: Sports , Cranberry Valley Golf Course

A gate blocks the entrance to Cranberry Valley Golf Course, which, like all other area courses, has been closed since March as part of the state’s closure of all nonessential businesses. Course director Roman Greer said reopening will take time. Kat Szmit Photo

Update: May 8, 2020 - Golfers eager to return to their favorite pastime received a bit of happy news on May 7 when Gov. Charlie Baker gave the green light for courses across the state to reopen, but don't rush off to the clubhouse just yet as it's likely not open. Though the state has granted permission to courses to reopen, many, including local courses, must seek permission from the towns they're in, and must follow a strict set of guidelines upon reopening.

Town officials announced Friday that Chatham Seaside Links will open on Sunday, May 10.

"Johnson Golf Management, operator of the course, announced that Chatham Seaside Links Golf Course will open on Sunday, May 10 in accordance with State guidelines issued yesterday," the statement from the Town read. "Beginning Saturday, May 9, prospective players will need to go to the course's website for a tee time."

The statement further noted that individual golfers will need to set up online profiles to book tee times, and that course members will have the ability to book without being charged, but that daily fee customers will have to prepay in order to comply with the new guidelines. All golfers must follow the rules set forth by the state, as detailed above.

According to the state's website (mass.gov/info-details/covid-19-essential-services-faqs), the only personnel allowed at the courses will be security personnel, such as a pro and/or the head starter, who will be tasked with enforcing social distancing of players. All staff must wear protective face coverings, and club facilities such as the clubhouse, pro shop, restaurants, bag room, and locker rooms must remain closed, along with practice putting and chipping areas and driving ranges. Caddies are not allowed and neither are motorized golf carts, though push carts are allowed. 

Further restrictions include limiting groups of players to no more than four, with all golfers required to maintain a distance of at least six feet from each other throughout play. There must also be 15 minutes between tee times, and golfers waiting to tee off must wait in their cars until their allotted time, as well as return immediately to their cars upon completion of play.

Golfers cannot share clubs, and renting of clubs is prohibited at this time. Flag sticks must remain in the hole, and hole liners must be raised to prevent ball retrieval from the hole. Courses must also remove bunker rakes and ball washers, but must provide readily accessible hand sanitizer.

Though crews have been allowed to maintain the courses, like many businesses throughout the state golf courses were deemed unessential and were ordered closed to players as a means of helping flatten the curve of new coronavirus cases. But that doesn’t mean everyone has heeded the closures, as courses around the region have had issues with people sneaking onto the fairways.

While a streaming banner on the Cranberry Valley Golf Course website explains the governor's decision, it adds that the course remains closed at least through May 8 as course officials determine the best plan for reopening. Roman Greer, PGA Director of Golf for Cranberry Valley, and also the golf director for the town of Harwich, said people have had difficulty understanding that courses were indeed closed.

“I think it took golfers a long time to accept the reality that they couldn’t congregate,” he said. “The first few weeks we were closed we did have to chase people off on a regular basis.”

Greer said people parked at the fields around Monomoy Regional High School, walked in with golf bags, and “helped themselves to the golf course” before being asked to leave by staff monitoring the course. 

“That has died down,” he said. “I think people understand how serious it is. I think people have come to grips with the new reality.”

Greer acknowledged that what has helped Cranberry Valley is the large, lockable gate at the end of the driveway leading up to the pro shop and clubhouse, which boasts a visible “Closed” sign on it. But other area courses don’t have layouts that allow for gates and must rely instead on orange cones or roped-off tees. Such is the case at the town-owned Seaside Links in Chatham, where people have been taking to the course regularly throughout the closure, either for clandestine golf outings or just walks.

“Cranberry Valley has a big gate,” said Kelly Laramee, owner-operator with her husband Jason of Johnson Golf Management (JGM), which oversees Seaside Links. “We just can’t control what people are going to do with the parking lot and the walking just because of the location.

To prevent rogue players during the closure, the Laramees via JGM said they put up a rope in front of the first tee. To further thwart those determined to golf, there are no holes in the greens, and they have also pulled up the flag sticks, making it challenging for players to see the greens. 

Jason said he’s simply trying to follow the guidelines set forth by the state until a workable plan for reopening safely has been established.

“I’m just trying to do what I’m told and that’s stay home and social distance,” he said.

Until Thursday, the website for Captains Golf in Brewster bore a bright red notice about the course being closed until at least May 18. That notice has been removed, but emails requesting updated information were not answered as of 5 p.m. Thursday evening.

Mark O’Brien, director of golf at Captains Golf in Brewster, said that while a few folks made their way onto the course from Freeman’s Way, local police have been leaving fliers on cars admonishing trespassers.

“People have actually been very pleased with the way it’s been respected,” O’Brien said. “We put barricades across the parking lots and reached out via email informing everyone as to what’s going on, and for the most part everybody has respected it.”

O’Brien said the concern with people sneaking onto the course is that it could be seen as a violation of the closure order for non-essential businesses.

“If people go out there without permission, it might encourage others to do so, and that’s going against the closure of the businesses that’s in effect right now,” O’Brien said.

The question that’s on the minds of every golfer is when the courses will reopen and what it will look like when they do.

“It’s quite challenging,” said Greer. “We’re looking at an entirely new golf environment. I don’t expect that May 18 it’s going to be business as usual. I think that when we do get the opportunity to open it will be a limited opening.”

Greer said those limits could include a closed clubhouse, removal of ball washers from the course, and keeping the cups on the greens raised about an inch off the surface so balls don’t go in, preventing people from touching the flag. There will likely be restrictions on motorized cart use as well.

“We’re monitoring a lot of different situations,” said Greer. “We would love to see golfers back out as soon as possible. I want to see people out enjoying themselves, exercising and having a good time, but when it’s a safe environment. I’m not sure when it’s going to be at this point, but public safety has to come first.”

O’Brien said that when Captains reopens, it will be done thoughtfully and in phases.

“When we are allowed to open, it will be phased in,” he said. “I’m guessing the first phase will be open to our members only and with larger spacing between our tee-time intervals. The pro shop and clubhouse areas will remain closed. We mostly likely won’t be allowing golf carts, at least in the initial phase. Then gradually, in future phases, we’ll open up parts of the operation.”

Like other area courses, Captains is taking its cue from regional and national golf associations in order to ensure a safe reopening.

“There’s a lot of work being done by various golf associations, regional and national, regarding plans to open courses safely,” O’Brien said. “I know they are keeping in touch with the advisory panel the governor has set up as far as opening up business in the state. There’s a lot of information they’re giving them that will allow golf to open up safely.”

When that will be remains to be seen.

“There is no date necessarily,” said Greer. “What my team and I are working with is a new golf environment. If we do get an opportunity to open and people are still not comfortable congregating, we want to offer golf where people feel safe. I think this is just going to be a different golf season.”

“I wouldn’t even hazard a guess on [reopening] at this point,” said O’Brien. “I’m going to wait and see what the governor’s advisory panel says on that. I would imagine they’ll have some guidance on phasing in, [but] the course is really in great condition, so when we do get the go-ahead, the conditions will be ideal.”

Until a reopening date is announced, however, players need to stay off the courses.

“If the property is closed and that is a municipal property, respect the fact that it’s closed,” said Jason Laramee. “These are unprecedented times we’re in right now.”