SCGA Public Affairs

Update: COVID-19 Update

Thursday, December 17, 2020

Yesterday, the City of Los Angeles sent the following message to its thousands of golf reservation card holders:

L.A. City Golfers,

Our booking policy has changed once again. Effective immediately, tee times are limited to no more than 4 players who need NOT be from the same household. Singles may now book tee times. L.A. City Golf will be following the L.A. County Department of Health Order "Reopening Protocols for Golf Courses" last updated 12/2/20. We apologize for any inconvenience. We appreciate your patience and your cooperation, and we thank you for your continued patronage.

As we reported late Friday afternoon, a similar message was sent from Los Angeles County Parks & Recreation to the operators of its 20 municipal golf courses, which in very short order communicated that message to their golfer data bases.

Both large municipal systems did so per the express permission/direction of Los Angeles County Public Health. They did not do this on their own or per some tortured definition of the two health orders under which they are both currently operating – California’s “stay at home” order and Los Angeles County’s separate “safer at home” order.

Given all the issues on Los Angeles County Public Health’s plate right now, this timing gap should not surprise. As important as golf may be to those reading these words, LA County Public Health has myriad matters of greater urgency to deal with as COVID-19 hospitalizations continue to rise to the point of overwhelming the region’s intensive care units.

Suffice it to say that at least for now, the last update of Los Angeles County’s “Reopening Protocols for Golf Courses” (December 2) is the document to which golfers, golf clubs, and golf properties need to refer for direction as to how to conduct permitted “recreational” golf. Click here for a copy of that dispositive document.

Where the document is specifically prescriptive, follow the prescription. Where the document is vague, construe the language in favor of the most restrictive construction, always remembering that the purpose of all these prescriptions is to ensure that at all times the golf being conducted guarantees maximal social distancing, maximal common touch point control, face coverings at all times when not able to guarantee 6 feet of distance from another, and no gatherings and/or congregations of any kind anywhere on property.

Los Angeles County Public Health, and by implication their counterparts in Southern California’s other 9 counties, is permitting a construction of the language governing golf per “no more than 4 persons per reservation no less than 10 minutes apart,” because strict adherence thereto along with strict adherence to all else that appears in the December 2 update of the “Reopening Protocols for Golf Courses” yields roughly 1.3 golfers per acre of open space, making it arguably the safest of the permitted outdoor activities in terms of social distancing and common touch point control.

If golfers and golf facilities practice these restrictions so that golf remains arguably the safest of the permitted activities under the state’s stay at home order, golf should remain just that – a permitted activity for the duration of the order. Fall short and all bets are off.

We highlight Los Angeles County not because it is the largest or in any way most important of the region’s 10 counties, but rather because it has been the most restrictive among the region’s 10 counties from day one of the pandemic. If you’re following their rules you are likely following all relevant rules in your county. But do go to your county’s web site to determine in what ways the golf at your facility may hew to a different and in many instances a lesser standard.

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We would be remiss if we didn’t share the following piece of breaking news. Yesterday a San Diego County Superior Court Judge in the words of today’s San Diego Union Tribune:

“ruled two strip clubs can remain open and operating during the most recent COVID-19 shutdown orders from the state, in a ruling that appeared to extend to the county’s beleaguered restaurant industry and allow those businesses to reopen to some extent.The ruling by Superior Court Judge Joel Wohlfeil came in a case filed by two San Diego strip clubs. And while the clubs prevailed in earning an injunction that allowed them to continue to offer live dancing, the judge went a significant step further and said the injunction can apply across San Diego’s restaurant sector that has been crushed by the COVID-19 pandemic.

Wohlfeil’s ruling prevents local officials from enforcing the latest set of restrictions that went into effect in San Diego County on Dec. 3, not only against the two strip clubs — Pacers and Cheetahs — but also ‘San Diego County businesses with restaurant service’ that abide by health and safety protocols that ‘are no greater than is essential’ to control the spread of COVID-19.

The ruling is effective immediately. What precisely that means is unclear.

San Diego County officials also were uncertain about the meaning but said Wednesday night the county would halt enforcing restrictions against restaurants.

‘The State and the County are analyzing the scope of the ruling and discussing next steps which includes seeking clarity from the court’” county Communications Director Mike Workman said in a statement. Until we have clarity, we have suspended enforcement activities against restaurants and live entertainment establishments.” [San Diego Union Tribune – Page 1 – December 17, 2020]

The San Diego County Board of Supervisors has voted 3-2 to seek an expedited appeal. A Los Angeles County Judge didn’t go nearly that far when he invalidated that county’s ban on outdoor dining due to lack of sufficient evidentiary support of any causal connection between outdoor dining and COVID transmission – in part because the ruling begged the provision of such evidence as a way of curing the problem and in much greater part because he ruled that the state “stay at home” order had preempted Los Angeles County’s prior issued “safer at home” order, rendering the matter irrelevant until such time as the state order is lifted.

Bottom line for San Diego golf courses. Don’t get your hopes up on appeal. Bottom line beyond those narrow confines. Public and other forms of support for rote submission to regulations issued by authorities operating under emergency powers is eroding. Where that takes us during the coming period of spiking COVID cases before vaccinations proliferate sufficiently to begin having palpable effect is anybody’s guess.

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It does now appear that Congress will pass a relief package before it recesses for the Holidays and certain unemployment and other benefits run out December 31. Smart money is on a package of $300 per week federal unemployment checks, extensions on state unemployment benefits that expire December 31, another $600 in means tested individual checks, and a $300 billion add to the PPP, which may contain eligibility for 501(c)(6) corporations this time around. What won’t be in the package is anything regarding liability protection for businesses or relief for the nation’s beleaguered state/local governments, both of which affect the golf community to the extent to which many golf properties are businesses and many (22% in California) are public sector operations whose fates are directly attached to local governments whose budgets are in free fall.

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