Another weekend of golf is under Southern Californians’ belts and with it another set of positive media accounts – most prominently in the San Diego Union Tribune Friday and in the Southern California News Group’s (SCNG) eleven (11) regional outlets Sunday. What has been notably missing is negative coverage of any kind. The same cannot be said of golf’s similarly situated “recreational” counterparts – trails, parks and most especially beaches, not to mention the many retail businesses that have opened in contravention of extant Health Orders.
SCNG’s Sunday offering, “Golf stays on its game with safety protocols,” put it best in its opening line: “With great opportunity comes great responsibility.” That’s the theme of the campaign SCGA and the Southern California PGA Section have been promoting with public service announcements, videos, tweets, and press releases. That’s the theme being pushed by all the game’s local, regional and national golf organizations. Follow it, and the golfers of Southern California are likely to continue enjoying the “recreational” component of the game throughout the long balancing act known as coping with COVID-19. Tamping down the pandemic curve was but the 1st act in this play. We have a long way to go and a lot of equities to balance.
As certain counties (e.g., Riverside) attempt to break free of state orders, others (San Diego, Orange, Riverside and San Bernardino) form coalitions to present an “alternative vision for opening the state,” and counties begin mimicking the state by setting minimum standards their cities are free to exceed, many of you are confused as to exactly what rules you are supposed to follow when playing golf at your club or another facility.
It’s hard not to be confused. In Los Angeles County all golf courses require face masks in “common areas,” but only those golf courses/clubs in the City of Los Angeles require face masks while on course. Riverside County seems to have removed all local orders save the minimum ones set by the state; however, individual cities within the county (e.g., Palm Desert, Cathedral City, Palm Springs, La Quinta) require face masks and other restrictive measures that were part of the initial county health order. San Diego is openly breaking with the state in terms of moving certain phase 3 openings into phase 2, but the County Health Director won’t relent on private golf instruction, which everyone reading this understands as being among the safest open-air activities. We’re working on that and are hopeful that the order will soon be amended to permit private instruction per the same social distancing/common touch point control that characterizes every other component of permitted “recreational” golf.
This is why SCGA has resisted the call to catalog these policies. They are as disparate as they are ever changing. Clubs and daily fee facilities need to check the orders governing their county and where applicable, their city. Municipal courses have an edge; they are owned by the governments that make the rules.
Golf returns to Los Angeles County this Saturday. Not all courses and clubs may open that day. Los Angeles County is the arbiter of the Health Order under which all must operate, but there may be some cities within the county that want to add an extra level of approval. There may also be facilities that feel the need to take a few extra days to implement the social distancing protocols that are required in the Revised Order re “recreational” golf. But the bottom line is that come Saturday golf will have returned to all of California’s 58 counties, and in Los Angeles County it will have returned on a basis predicated much more on solid social distancing and touch point mandates than on some of the irrational rules that have characterized golf’s return in some of California’s other counties.
All the social distancing/touch point details are of importance to operators but not to all who play public and private golf in California’s most populous county. The protocols are quite detailed and prescriptive in deference to the overriding need to ensure that the courses, but here are a few that are likely of greatest interest to golfers:
This is a partial list. The ones we left out, and there are many of them, are all focused on the task at hand: Ensuring that golf opens up in Los Angeles County as the “recreational” activity uniquely suited to social distancing that the golf community has been saying is perfectly consistent with protecting its participants from personal interaction and shared touch points.
Given all the confusion about those troublesome words about “walking – no carts” that appeared on Governor Newsom’s web site last week, it is clear from the small list of protocols above that Los Angeles County has joined the vast majority of counties that interpret them as “suggestions” as opposed to prescriptions. San Diego County initially followed the “prescription” interpretation but on Monday joined the rest by making single rider carts available to all 55 years of age and older. Having broken with the interpretation, it shouldn’t be long before San Diego relaxes that rule further, perhaps along with other relaxations such as the “private lesson” accommodation that Los Angeles County has just adopted.
We take note that the Governor’s web site has changed those words to “singles, with carts.” While the wording is hardly elegant – it seems to mean single rider carts – it’s clear that golf carts are no longer proscribed per any version of Gubernatorial concern, whether suggestive or prescriptive. Given that we expect Governor Newsom to announce his intention to defer to the counties regarding the details of Phase 2 business reintroductions, it is likely that these words will simply disappear from the FAQ website.
With this final piece of the reintroduction puzzle now in place, golf turns to the next phase of its pandemic challenge – recognition that the theory of our particular case about social distancing amenability has been won on paper but must now be sustained in the much wider and thornier world of practice. Precisely because golf is among the handful of activities now back in our lives, the world’s gaze is laser focused upon us. Golfers put on a good show, and the show goes on. We put on a bad show, and the show closes.
Mindful of that, the SCGA and the PGA of Southern California have joined forces on a massive campaign to educate golfers that the ball is in their court. Expect to be inundated by it very soon.
The maintenance of strict social distancing and the elimination of common touch points are going to be the order of golf’s day for some time to come. As time passes, some of those orders are likely to be relaxed, but golfers must never forget that it is “recreational” golf that is amenable to the current phase of the pandemic response; it is not all of golf. The social aspects associated with clubhouses, grill rooms, and common areas, as well as the business aspects associated with tournaments, weddings, banquets, and charitable fundraisers – these will return when their functional counterparts are reintroduced in later phases of the state’s planned return to “normality.”
Staying a course predicated on maximal patience was not always easy but stay that wise course golf did. If golf can demonstrate that same combination of patience and wisdom as it moves to the next phase of its long ramp up back to normality, it will keep moving forward.
At today’s gubernatorial press conference, the Governor made specific reference to golf as one of the many “recreational” activities amenable to reintroduction by local authorities so long as the game is practiced as a “recreational” activity per the guidelines issued by the Governor’s Office for myriad recreational activities – the common denominators being no group activity of any kind and no opportunities for common or direct touch points. The disturbing wrinkle in the very brief golf description involves an admonition against the use of golf cars; however, given today’s strong words about local control, it is quite conceivable that some counties will hew to current policies that permit single rider carts and others will reverse course and proscribe their use until such time as today’s admonition is amended. Within hours of Governor Newsom’s press conference, that is exactly what the County of San Diego did; they amended the Revised Order set to go into effect tomorrow. As of 6:00 PM today (April 30), we have not heard of any other Southern California county following suit – yet.
This is something the statewide golf community will watch closely and likely through the auspices of the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) seek an audience with the Governor’s Office to gauge the reasoning behind the prohibition and based thereon, perhaps an entreaty to alter it. Audiences with “stakeholders” are exactly what Governor Newsom solicited in today’s briefing.
Once golf courses in San Diego County file a rather complicated and prescriptive application form with San Diego Public Health, they are sanctioned by the county to begin allowing play starting tomorrow, May 1. As with other counties, most notably Orange, there are cities within the county that require that they seek separate approval. If experience in other counties is prologue, many cities will simply rubber stamp the protocols sanctioned by the county, but others will add their own wrinkles to the mix of requirements.
Some of the county’s “wrinkles” are a bit different from those in other jurisdictions. With appropriate separation of hitting bays, driving ranges are permitted, but teaching is not. Every guest’s temperature must be taken upon arrival at the facility. Other than that, the rest is the standard COVID-19 golf fare, including to-go food only, shuttered clubhouses, expanded tee intervals, etc. Of course, single rider carts have been excised from the protocols based on what the Governor did today.
Of all the things that San Diego Public Health Officer Wilma Wooten said in her press conference announcing golf’s reintroduction, the following statement was most telling and most important to remember as golfers critique the often inscrutable particulars of various orders: “If we treated the golf courses as a business, they would be closed. We have chosen to treat the golf courses as a (recreational) activity.” Golf is not an “essential service” on the Governor’s or anyone else’s list of essential businesses permitted to remain open by virtue of society’s acute need for it. It is among the first activities reintroduced for two and only two reasons: 1) It has been categorized by the state as a “recreational activity,” and 2) it is a recreational activity amenable to the strict social distancing rules that are mandated by the statewide “stay at home” order.
This is why the golf community has avoided the trap of pleading a financial impact case. It’s a sure loser! Public opinion still overwhelmingly supports current orders, full-well knowing that they are throwing the economy into a descent steeper and deeper than the Great Depression of the 1930’s. “Recreation” and “social distance amenability” have proven winners. They may not be perfect winners in the eyes of many, but the pursuit of perfection here would have amounted to the very definition of allowing the perfect to be the enemy of the good. “Good” can be made better. With these reintroduction protocols golf has the tools to do that and do that probably faster than most now think, given all the discussion about a measured reopening of the California economy now on all policy-makers lips, including Governor Newsom.
Relief for the Nation’s Municipal Governments
When Congress reconvenes next week, the first item on its agenda involves relief for the nation’s municipal governments. Eighteen percent (18%) of the nation’s golf courses are municipally owned; the number is 22% in California. In both cases those numbers understate the impact of the municipal sector on the game and business of golf. In California municipal governments may own roughly 22% of the state’s golf courses, but they represent considerably more in terms of the number of golfers and the rounds of golf played, and most of the sites the game uses for various junior, developmental, grow the game, and diversity & inclusion programs.
The COVID-19 crisis is causing California’s cities and counties to gut their municipal budgets, with the largest of the state’s cities and counties being hit the hardest. These large cities and counties happen to have large municipal golf programs, including the host courses for the 2020 PGA Championship (Harding Park in San Francisco) and the 2021 US Open Championship (San Diego’s Torrey Pines). Even though many of the cities operate their golf programs as enterprise funds or contracted-out operations, we are informed that both operating and capital funds are now in jeopardy by municipal budget-cutting, and operating revenues will be siphoned-off should the cities not receive substantial amounts of federal bailout money.
That would be the fate of the successful municipal facilities in California’s large cities, where high demand has long provided for operations that are net revenue generators. Marginal facilities in urban settings, particularly of the developmental variety, and marginal facilities in California’s more sparsely populated regions, both of which were struggling before COVID-19, are likely to be shuttered, without generous federal bailouts for the municipalities. Our experience with shuttered municipal golf facilities is that once they close, they never come back, and in California’s large cities or any city on our coast where land values are among the highest in the nation, public golf courses will never again be constructed.
Washington D.C. is divided regarding this matter. What else is new? The House supports strongly. Senate Democrats support strongly. The White House initially supported strongly and now supports on a qualified basis in deference to skepticism expressed by Senate Majority Leader Mitch McConnell. Three out of four is a good start and one that has caused the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) to write a letter to the game’s national lobbying arm We Are Golf (World Golf Foundation) to implore the national golf industry to take a strong stance in favor of relief legislation.
Support for this legislation is important in and of itself for the continued health of the game’s base. It is also important for the image of the game of golf. Seventy percent (70%) of the golfers in America are public course golfers. The We Are Golf coalition went to the mat for all of golf’s other sectors in the recent CARES Act debate. If the national lobbying arm now fails to make the same strong effort in support of municipal golf it will discredit itself in the eyes of the golfing public and give ammunition to golf’s detractors, whose pastime is to portray golf as an “elitist” game out of touch with modernity.
SCGA and its allied associations in California always have and always will go to bat for ALL of golf’s various interests and sectors, from the smallest of golf clubs without real estate to the grandest of private country clubs.
As golf reopens in Ventura, Riverside and Orange Counties, and San Bernardino County prepares to reveal the details of plans to reopen golf courses, parks and other outdoor activities this weekend, many of you have asked about the two large counties yet to take the same plunge – San Diego and Los Angeles. More specifically, many have asked about the source of our optimism about those counties beyond the fact that both construed their own “stay at home” orders to permit golf in the days immediately following those orders’ issuance.
First, don’t dismiss the importance of that initial indulgence. Put crudely, golf “won” the argument about its compatibility with those orders and its amenability to the strict social distancing requirements contained therein. It was an argument that got lost in the days that followed to the overriding need to dampen a spiking pandemic curve, but it didn’t get lost to the time that would inevitably come to begin the slow roll of reintroducing safe activities to our lives. That time has now come, and golf is being reintroduced, albeit in a truncated and very limited form.
Beyond generic reasons for optimism regarding San Diego, we know that the County Supervisors who represent Districts 3 and 5 are openly briefing for the reintroduction of golf and similarly situated social distancing amenable outdoor activities. Third District Supervisor Kristin Gaspar has released a copy of a letter she wrote to the County CEO Monday in which she expressly mentioned golf as one of the activities that can be done in open spaces and for that reason ought to be allowed – a letter that specifically references a rigid set of social distancing protocols in sync with CDC prescriptions that was provided her Office by one of the county’s multi-course operators. Fifth District Supervisor Jim Desmond has not been shy about his belief that the time has come to reintroduce golf. Two does not equal three, a Board majority, but along with what we’re hearing from the City of San Diego, there is cause for optimism about golf’s sooner than later return in that county.
We cannot be as definitive regarding Los Angeles County. Please trust that based on what we know through multiple credible sources, there is considerable cause for optimism in that county as well. Because of that “won” argument at the dawn of “safer at home,” golf is positioned to join a handful of other outdoor recreational activities as that county too begins its slow roll toward reintroducing certain first priority activities back into our lives – “first priority” not because they are any more important or virtuous than other activities, but because they are peculiarly amenable to the strict social distancing protocols that policy-makers have deemed necessary to the next phase of the pandemic response.
Because golf is among the first reintroductions, it will come under great scrutiny from policymakers, media and public. Golf clubs, operators, professionals, superintendents, and most especially the golfers themselves have to keep in mind that public opinion continues to skew heavily in favor of keeping a lid on any and all activities that might lead to a resurgence in the pandemic curve. Associated Press is reporting the results of a national poll today that reveals the following. Eighty percent (80%) of Americans continue to support “stay at home” directives. Despite what you see in terms of protests, only 12% of Americans think those directives go too far, and a majority (56%) are skeptical that conditions can improve enough in the next few weeks to begin lifting restrictions.
Blanket restrictions on golf are being lifted against the grain of public opinion. While we can take solace in the fact that the facts of the matter favor the lifting, we forget at our own peril that public opinion doesn’t always respect the facts of the matter, particularly when the facts of their own lives are suffused by economic deprivation and fears about their health.
It is incumbent on all who play, work or manage golf to understand that golf is theirs to lose if golf cannot translate its talk about social distancing into performance. The world is watching. If it doesn’t like our show, the show will close.
There will be a 2nd wave of the Novel Coronavirus pandemic. How severe? The epidemiologists can make educated guesses, but they don’t know. If it is more severe than those guesses, golf’s “show” in the coming months won’t matter. But if it is in the range of most of those predictions, that “show” will spell the difference between the continuation of golf in some form and a 2nd shutdown.
Note to SCGA, our allied associations/organizations, and golfers and golf clubs everywhere: Pivot to putting on a great show.
Another major Southern California county has taken action to reopen golf courses. We use the phrase, “taken action,” because it’s not clear that Orange County ever closed golf. Three of the municipal golf courses owned by the county have remained open since the adoption of its version of a “stay at home” order, which may explain why Orange County has been home to so much confusion about the meaning of various state, county and city orders as they pertain to golf.
In an effort to clear up the confusion, the Orange County Board of Supervisors voted unanimously this morning to amend its “stay at home” directive to permit golf under certain restrictions – the usual ones about social distancing.
Here are some stipulations of note from today’s Board directive:
Orange, Ventura, Riverside – that’s 3 major counties in 4 days. The trend is clear. Golf’s strategy in positioning itself to be among the early re-introductions post-flattening of the pandemic curve turned out to be a wise one. Patience paid off. Now, it’s important that wisdom prevail. If golf can execute the social distancing mandates we trumpeted, if our social distancing game is as good as our social distancing talk, we can earn the trust of a watching public and not suffer a second disruption when the inevitable second wave of the Novel Coronavirus strikes later this fall.
In the day’s other major COVID-19 news, the United States Senate approved $470 billion to replenish the coffers of the spent Paycheck Protection Program (PPP). It is a given that the House will approve the package, releasing billions in much needed relief to the nation’s small businesses, among them a lot of golf courses and clubs. Yes; clubs! 501(c)(7) Corporations are still not eligible for the PPP, but they remain eligible for the other major relief component of the CARES Act – the Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program (EIDL), a program less generous than the PPP, which is designed for small profit-making businesses, but generous in its terms nonetheless.
Here are the details:
There will be more re-openings. There will be more relief from Congress. To the degree to which it may become available when the California legislature comes back into session, there could be other kinds of relief from the state. We will try to keep you informed so that golfers and golf clubs can make their best-informed judgments about how to proceed in some very rough waters.
The County of Riverside revised its COVID-19 Order to allow the golfers of that county back on the 1st tee as early as tomorrow. Following are those sections of the Order governing the terms and conditions under which golf will go forward until further notice from the county.
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Effective immediately, the Health Officer for the County of Riverside and the County Executive Officer as Director of Emergency Services hereby Order that all golf courses in the County of Riverside, whether public or private, may be opened for limited use, as outlined herein. Golf may resume on all golf courses, whether public or private. Golf play may occur in groups of no more than four (4) persons and social distancing practices shall always be followed by participants. No caddies are permitted.
In order to open for play, all public and private golf courses shall fully implement the “Park and Play: Making Your Course Social Distance Ready” Program developed by the National Golf Course Owners Association. [Click here for a PDF of that document]
For purposes of this Order, “social distancing” requires that a six-foot separation from all persons, except for household members and medical providers with the appropriate personal protection equipment, be maintained at all times in order to reduce the spread of infections, including the COVID-19 virus. Only one person per golf cart is permitted.
No large gatherings, including but not limited to tournaments or fundraisers, shall be held by, hosted by, or occur at any golf course, either public or private, at any time before June 20, 2020. This Order requires that social distancing must be practiced in all ancillary use areas of a golf course, including but not limited to parking areas, clubhouses, driving ranges, and practice putting greens.
Face coverings, such as scarves (dense fabric, without holes), bandanas, neck gaiter, or other fabric face coverings, must be worn at all times by those working at or playing on a golf course, either public or private, and in all ancillary use areas. All persons are discouraged from using Personal Protective Equipment (PPE), such as N95 masks, for non-medical reasons.
Pursuant to this Order, food and/or beverage services provided by a golf course, either public or private, may operate only for delivery or pick-up orders and social distancing practices must be maintained at all times. No in-person dining shall be permitted.
This Order shall not be seen to restrict the ability of a golf club and/or golf course to continue landscaping and maintenance efforts in any way.
Similarly, this Order shall not be understood to restrict the ability of a golf club and/or golf course to maintain minimum business operations, such as security.
To the extent that any golf club and/or golf course includes a gym, fitness center, beauty salon, or spa, these amenities shall be and shall remain closed.
This Order shall not restrict the ability of individuals to walk a golf course for exercise, if permitted by the golf course/club, so long as social distancing practices are maintained at all times pending further Order of the Public Health Officer.
[SCGA Note: We believe that the face-cover mandate expires April 30]
Per the “opening” in Governor Newsom’s “Roadmap to Modify the Stay at Home Order” that we suggested last week, Placer County’s 27 golf courses in Northern California opened for play Friday per a set of “social distancing best practices” supplied at that county’s request by the GCSAA. Over the weekend some non-public golf courses in Orange County opened per similar social distancing restrictions, presaging an extension to public facilities in the near future.
Preparations for opening in other Southern California counties is rumored to be taking place internally. Specifically, Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer is quoted in Saturday’s Los Angeles Times discussing recreation, trails, and beaches as having reopening strategies in place “as we begin to lift our health officer order, Safer at Home, later on in the month in the month of May, in most likelihood.”
Riverside County Board President Manuel Perez, whose county had been scornful of the desert golf community’s invocation of the same compatibility arguments a couple of weeks ago, spoke openly on Friday of taking the matter up in the coming week. Chambers of Commerce and business groups are openly briefing to begin the process of moving from the dampening of the curve phase of the pandemic response to the second phase involving the reintroduction of activities like golf that are capable of practicing the social distancing necessary to keep the pandemic curve bending downward.
The most significant pivot in this direction was announced Saturday evening in a Ventura County press release. Quoted verbatim from that release:
“The modified Order allows exceptions for limited business operations allowing nonpublic serving businesses to operate using no more than 10 employees, allows for gatherings of up to 5 people, modifies some essential businesses, allows for gatherings in motor vehicles, reopens golf courses and other forms of recreation with appropriate restrictions, allows bike shops to open and permits in-person sale of vehicles.”
Following is that part of the modified Order that adds golf back to the lives of Ventura County residents:
“To provide accommodations for persons who wish to golf as a form of outdoor activity, public and private golf courses may operate provided they strictly enforce Social Distancing Requirements and enforce the following additional protocols:
We have been pressing the case to a sometimes impatient golf audience that having won the argument about golf’s amenability to strict social distancing protocols at the dawn of these various “Stay at Home” directives, golf need just bide the time necessary to allow policy makers to take the steps required to ensure that the pandemic curve doesn’t overwhelm the public health system’s capacity to treat critically ill patients in order to arrive at the other side of that curve ready to be among the first activities reintroduced.
Events would seem to be unfolding to justify the wisdom of that strategy. It is now incumbent upon the golf community to perform – to rise to the challenge of executing the strict social distancing protocols we have asked policy makers to put their trust in. While there is evidence emerging that the mortality rate of COVID-19 may be much lower than epidemiologists first surmised, there is also evidence that COVID-19 can re-infect patients who appeared to have successfully beaten the virus upon initial exposure. Viral infestations always have a second wave; it was the 2nd wave of the Spanish Flu pandemic that did most of the damage.
Yesterday, a few hours after the governors of six (now eight) Northeastern States announced that they would be working together to develop a coherent strategy across state lines to begin reintroducing activities and businesses on the other side of the pandemic curve, Governor Newsom and his counterparts in Oregon and Washington announced a parallel effort for the west coast.
Both sets of governors made clear that their regions had yet to get over to that other side of the pandemic curve; however, because the numbers were starting to look encouraging, it made sense to begin organizing for that day.
We’re not at the end the tunnel, but we can see the light emanating therefrom.
Today Governor Newsom issued “California’s Roadmap to Modify the Stay at Home Order.” If you have been reading these reports you’ll easily see how early reintroduction of golf is achievable if the game can handle itself patiently, strategically and sensitively.
Just as Governor Newsom and both his East Coast and West Coast counterparts have recognized the wisdom in arriving at the moment prepared, so too should the California golf community start translating what up until now has been a solid positioning strategy into something more like a concrete plan.
We would argue that such is already underway as courses and clubs in specific locales and counties begin to coordinate efforts to approach their respective counties. The organizations that comprise the California Alliance for Golf (CAG) have began to construct a set of “best social distancing practices” that the state’s courses can use to work with county public health officers to achieve confidence in golf’s ability to practice the social distancing necessary to qualify to be among the first activities reintroduced when the pandemic curve is sufficiently dampened.
Click here to read Governor Newsom’s 13-page “Roadmap.” It provides an opening for the notion we have been teasing about the end of Phase I of the pandemic response soon sliding toward a Phase II in which golf is amenable to reintroduction.
When Governor Newsom issued his first “stay at home” directive and multiple counties issued parallel but, in most cases, much stronger “safer at home” directives, golf continued forward in many jurisdictions. The premise: That golf as normally played practices a healthy measure of “social distancing” and could very easily practice the extreme form of it consistent with these directives.
What worked in theory and on paper didn’t work so well in practice. It didn’t work for similarly situated outdoor recreational activities either. The great shutdown of all activities except those deemed “essential” was on. Beaches and walking trails were cordoned off. Playgrounds were roped off. Ball fields were deemed off limits to those wanting nothing more than to play pitch and catch. Policy makers, egged on by strong public support, determined to err on the side of ensuring that the pandemic curve would not crest to the point of overtaxing the medical system’s ability to treat critically ill patients.
Golf’s claims about “social distancing,” true though they may be, were not going to survive what amounted to a virtual lockdown of everything, including most small and large businesses. It wasn’t going to survive policy makers in a panic about running short of hospital beds, medical equipment, and the very doctors and nurses needed to use both for critically ill patients. Nor was golf going to survive the reality that governments exercising emergency powers do not have the luxury of nuance, complication, or fine distinctions; crude simplification is always the order of any emergency day. The result: Other than small pockets of golf in Sacramento and San Luis Obispo Counties, the game is pretty much out of commission now in California.
California may be ahead of other states; we were the first state to issue a “stay at home” order. But one by one by one, the other states are following the same pattern – golf followed in turn by closure. Wisconsin, Pennsylvania, Texas, Florida, and yesterday Nevada – all states that many pointed to as examples of the compatibility of golf and COVID-19 – and all states that have long since followed California’s lead in the same effort to err on the side of maximal caution in preserving the integrity of the health infrastructure’s ability to treat those critically ill with the Coronavirus as well as those critically ill with maladies that don’t take holidays in deference to a pandemic.
Having written all of that, let us also state unequivocally that the truth of golf’s claims about its “social distancing” capacities is central to the California golf industry’s strategy to keep the game positioned as one of the first activities to be restored once the pandemic wave has crested sufficiently to begin reintroducing activities and business enterprises back into Californians’ lives. There is more golf to be enjoyed on the other side of the pandemic curve than the few days that may have been available per a more aggressive stance at the ramp-up of the curve.
A pandemic is not like an earthquake, hurricane or flood. There will be no “all-clear” signal once the emergency passes. There will be a slow roll of reintroduced activities – a phased approach. Based on the judgments that were rendered immediately after all the strict orders were issued, golf is positioned to be part of that 1st phase of reintroduced activities. The consensus strategy of California’s normative golf leadership organizations is to maintain that position during the current closure period and organize to the best of our ability the state’s golfers to execute it during this initial reintroduction phase. Golf can do this. And because it can, it must. But we can only do this if we avoid the temptations of impatience, narrow thinking, and the conflicting narratives of a fractured golf community.
Thursday night the federal government released the details of the COVID-19 legislation of direct impact to the nation’s golf facilities and the businesses that own/manage them (Paycheck Protection Program or PPP). Previous legislation more directly affected employees laid off or furloughed due to the Coronavirus, although this piece of legislation (CARES Act) also beneficially impacts employees as it is intended to incentivize businesses to retain employees for the duration of COVID-19 business cessations.
Please note that the $349 billion loan/loan forgiveness program that comprises the bulk of the CARES Act (House Resolution 748) applies only to for-profit businesses and those nonprofits in the C Chapter of Section 501 of the IRS Code that are charitable, e.g., 501(c)(3)’s and a category that encompasses veterans support organizations. It does NOT apply to 501(c)(7)’s, which is the tax status of equity golf clubs, nor does it apply to 501(c)(6)’s, which is the tax status of the SCGA and the SCPGA, albeit not either of the two organizations’ junior golf foundations. Whether that is amenable to change or some other type of accommodation in the relief/stimulus bills on tap in the coming weeks is an open question, as are so many other questions right now.
PPP is the most generous and expansive of the relief programs to date. But it is NOT the only one, which is good news for those non-charitable non-profit organizations that were excluded from PPP, among them the state’s equity country clubs and the various associations that support the infrastructure of the game, including the SCGA and SCPGA.
The “COVID-19 Economic Injury Disaster Loan Program” is an alternative program which, unlike the PPP, includes (c) (6)’s and (7)’s. There is no cost to apply and no obligation to accept if approved. Up to $2 million can be borrowed; however, no more than $25,000.00 can be unsecured. The monies come directly from the United States Treasury. Repayment is automatically deferred for 12 months. Standard interest rate for private non-profits is 2.75% for a term of up to 30 years. Funds can be used for fixed expenses such as rent, payroll, accounts payable, and debts that might otherwise have been satisfied but for the COVID-19 “economic disaster.”
We are informed that the WGF’s We Are Golf team in Washington D.C. is continuing to advocate aggressively for all of golf’s eligibility for some of the more “generous” relief/stimulus programs that will come under consideration in the coming weeks.
The National Golf Foundation put together some fantastic data regarding the impact of COVID-19 on golf nationwide. You can find the report here.
As predicted in the last entry, as the pandemic curve continues to go up, so do the number of golf course closures – some by directive, others by choice of ownership.
Also rapidly going up are other forms of closure – playgrounds, ball fields, walking trails, wilderness areas, and beaches. Yes; golf is much easier to operate per the strict social distancing mandates of current directives. We know that. We have made sure that policy makers know that. And as a result, golf is positioned to come back on-line much sooner than many of these activities – a case successfully sustained by efforts of the SCGA and its allied golf community partners.
It’s time to move forward and begin thinking about how to best assist the Southern California golf community weather the closure storm and beyond to the difficulties associated with ramping back up.
The SCGA is now busy trying to figure out exactly what is in the 1,000-page stimulus/relief package passed by Congress and signed by the President Friday night. The World Golf Foundation’s (WGF) lobbying arm (We Are Golf) has three Washington lobbyists busy picking through the bill to see what of a golf specific nature is in there and plans to issue a comprehensive report that we will share as soon as we have it. There is one piece of good news they’ve already discovered. In this emergency relief package, golf businesses are not categorically excluded as has often been past practice, most recently after Hurricane Katrina in 2006. This makes golf businesses eligible for the $367 billion in the package for small businesses (less than 50 employees). There is a separate, albeit less generous program, for larger businesses and golf is categorically included in that program as well.
With last Thursday’s announcement of 3.3 million unemployment insurance claims, it appears that dire predictions regarding short-term unemployment weren’t dire; they were spot on. Whether the unprecedented number of unemployment claims presages a deep recession is anybody’s guess. But what it does guarantee is that California is going to burn through the $21 billion rainy day fund it took 6 years to acquire in very short order, even with the $10 billion the state anticipates receiving in direct federal assistance. As you may have read countless times in countless publications, California’s tax receipts are heavily dependent on both the income and capital gains of its affluent citizens. When markets tank and recessions reign, the state’s tax receipts plummet considerably more than in most states. Throw in unfunded pension liabilities and the costs associated with fighting the COVID-19 crisis, and California’s budget situation could be on the edge of a rapid collapse, which will dredge up all sorts of ugliness that will affect governments and public services down to the most local of levels. Golf of all varieties, but particularly of the municipal variety will be affected, and the SCGA is proactively planning on how to tackle these threats if and when they arise.
Please know that the SCGA’s effort to provide you with information and analysis regarding COVID-19’s impact upon golf facilities is not made to distract you from what should be the overriding concern of everybody at this moment – health, safety, and community. Stay safe. Stay vigilant. Be ever mindful of family and community. And remember that these things always trump the exigencies of any moment.
SCGA long ago succeeded in persuading Southern California’s cities and counties to include golf along with playgrounds, hiking trails, beaches, ball fields and other open space activities capable of hewing to the social distancing mandates of various executive orders, including the Governor’s statewide order. That is why all of these activities, including golf, were provided in the public sector the days following the issuance of the Governor’s and other orders, many of which (e.g., County of Los Angeles) were considerably stricter than the one issued by the Governor. The private sector for the most part followed that lead. If the cities and counties that wrote these orders were interpreting them to permit golf on the courses they owned, that was all the evidence a privately held golf property needed to follow suit.
After 2-3 days it became apparent that these open space activities had not been able to practice the social distancing practices mandated in all the orders – not just golf, but all of them. That is why on Sunday access to the various wilderness and hiking/walking trails in the Santa Monica Mountains were ordered blocked, playgrounds locked down, ballfields made off limits, picnic areas proscribed, beach parking lots closed (they’re working on closing the actual beaches right now), and yes, publicly owned golf courses closed. At the same time (Sunday) Governor Newsom strengthened his statewide order to limit the list of “essential services” allowed to remain open for business. Golf had been on that list qualified only by counties’ ability to tweak the list according to local circumstance. The San Francisco Bay Area’s 6 counties did just that a week prior with the issuance of a joint “shelter in place” directive.
Thus, the cascade of closures is upon us until such time as the pandemic wave crests and it becomes acceptable to again participate in the outdoor activities of which golf has successfully established itself. SCGA, in collaboration with the state’s allied golf organizations is working to develop a very comprehensive set of protocols for the purpose of coming back on line at the earliest possible moment – that and ensuring that during closure golf properties can continue to use staff to protect them from trespass, encampment, vandalism, and theft as well as maintain them so that they retain their playing surfaces.
The SCPGA surveyed Southern California golf course operators to determine what actions courses are taking during the COVID-19 pandemic. The following courses reported being closed:
While there is ample information regarding the COVID-19 crisis, there is little of a golf-specific nature, and nowhere to go for those who seek answers about how the various directives and orders issued in recent days affect golf clubs and golf facilities. What follows is an attempt to cure that deficit.
Last week, Governor Newsom issued an Executive Order directing Californians to stay in their homes except as needed to maintain certain infrastructure functions deemed “critical” by the federal government. The problem: The Governor’s list of 16 critical infrastructure sectors was so expansive as to encompass practically the entire California economy – a set of exceptions that excepted almost everything.
This left it up to the state’s cities and counties to take the next steps necessary to bring practical order to taming the COVID-19 pandemic curve. As a result, they created a patchwork of directives that in some cases allowed for golf under certain social distancing protocols and in other cases prohibited it. Not surprisingly, confusion reigned in the immediate aftermath of these orders.
As some of the localities began to bring a little order out of the chaos, Governor Newsom significantly amended his “critical” list of “essential infrastructure functions” to make it much more specific, prescriptive, and restrictive – a set of exceptions that now excepted only certain things. No longer does there seem to be room for continued golf, no matter the conditions or circumstances of play.
In addition, during the same 48-hour period in which the Governor cracked down, cities and counties throughout the state began to close playgrounds, ball fields, hiking trails, beaches, and general recreational areas – making it no longer an atmosphere conducive of translating the outdoor virtues of golf into a persuasive argument for allowing it under current conditions.
The California Alliance for Golf, an organization comprised of the state’s allied leadership organizations (including the SCGA), is working to secure further clarification to ensure that golf courses can protect their 100 + acres of exposed property from trespass, encampment and theft and maintain them properly while closed.
It is important to remember that any attempt to provide clarity regarding COVID-19 is a moving target – a snapshot in time of a rapidly evolving situation. SCGA will try to keep shooting photos and sending them to you as the picture changes.
This update is a summary of a much more detailed report released yesterday to the industry insiders, leaders and allied associations that subscribe to SCGA Governmental Affairs Updates. For a copy of that report, please click here.
The SCGA will continue to post updates on our website as the situation progresses.