Ohio Dept. of Health reverses decision, allows golf courses to open

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COLUMBUS (WCMH) — In the span of 24 hours, the opinion of the Ohio Department of Health went from “No” to “Yes” when it comes to whether golf courses could remain open under Governor Mike DeWine’s Stay at Home order.  

Initially, the Department of Health did not consider golf courses essential businesses, as the following email exchanges indicate.  

On the morning of Friday, March 27 Tara Thornton, the sanitarian supervisor of the Warren County Combined Health Department wrote:  

“Yesterday the Warren County Health District heard from the Ohio Department of Health both during a conference call with other local health districts and with an e-mail directly with the chief of staff of their legal department who stated that golf courses were not exempt from the Stay At Home Order. As the Stay At Home Order was an Ohio Department of Health Order we aligned with the guidance of their legal counsel. We have sent the concerns we have received up to the Ohio Department of Health and requested that they clarify this immediately so that all of Ohio is aligned on this issue. If their decision is to exempt golf courses at that time we will rescind the Order.”  

On Saturday morning Greg Kesterman, the Interim Health Commissioner for Hamilton County Public Health wrote a similar email:  

“The Ohio Department of Health has provided additional guidance regarding the operation of golf courses in Ohio. Based on this new guidance, it is clear that golf courses are not considered an essential business and are required to close under the Director of Health’s Stay At Home Order. While I understand the impact that this will have on your business and your customers, I greatly appreciate your quick compliance.”  

But then everything changed Sunday night according to a communication to Elks Leadership from Jared Warner, the Highland County Health Commissioner:  

“Elks Leadership,  

The Highland County Health Department participated in yet another conference call with the Ohio Department of Health late Sunday evening, and received final guidance on this issue directly from the ODH Chief of Staff.  

My concern from the beginning of this discussion has been to be consistent in how we apply the director’s rules. It is very important to me that our community treats all of our businesses fairly.  

Based on ODH guidance, and after additional consultation with our Highland County Prosecutor, we are going to allow golf courses to operate under an exemption from section 5.c. This exemption is specific to golf courses, and requires that your organization comply with the social distancing requirements listed in Section 15 of the Director’s Stay at Home Order…”  

Stephanie Stewart, with Environmental Health for the Clinton County Health District also sent a similar email Monday morning:  

“Dear Golf Course Operators,  

I know you have had questions regarding the operation of your golf course and whether it is allowed with the Governor’s Stay At Home Order. It is ultimately your decision in this process, but wanted to give you some additional information. “Ohio Department of Health has taken the position to allow golfing in Ohio as an outdoor recreational activity. In order to begin/continue golfing again at your course, each golf course must comply with the social distancing requirements listed in Section 15 of the Director’s Stay At Home Order. The intent of the Director’s Stay At Home Order is to create social distancing. Please create/continue a social distancing plan and have it available for review on site at your course for your employees and should the Clinton County Health District conduct and inspection…”  

While this could be positive news for golf course owners, they must now take steps to ensure social distancing at their facilities and on their courses.  

Rebecca Lawless and her family own Big Walnut Golf Course in Delaware County. She admits, they were getting nervous about the lack of revenue coming in and needing to make ends meet. She says interest in golfing, in general, has dropped off over the last decade as more outdoor activities have become available. Ultimately, the 9-hole course at Big Walnut needs to be open to survive.  

For that reason, Lawless and her family are happy about the development. They are taking steps to limit interactions and maintain social distancing. They are limiting people in golf carts; if the group playing is all from the same household, they can share carts, but if they are not the rule is one person to a cart and individual carts. Additionally, all of the carts will be disinfected after each use.  

On the greens, the flagsticks are not to be touched and are to stay in the hole. They have also raised the cups to be a few inches above the hole so that golf balls will not fall into them. As soon as their ball touches the cup, play on that hole is finished for that golfer.  

No one will be allowed inside the clubhouse and they will be greeted by an employee to check them in for their tee time outside.  

Some other courses have gone to a completely online booking system by credit card and do not allow walk-up players or cash. Additionally, restaurants and grills at the clubhouses are only allowed to offer to-go.  

Lawless says, due to their size and outdoor locations social distancing shouldn’t be a problem.  

“I think the key is that you’re on a golf course that located on, you know, we’re on 88 acres,” said Lawless. “Six feet is a pretty easy obtainable when you’re dealing with that much land and acreage.”  

But not everyone agrees. The City of Columbus operates six golf courses around the city and is keeping all of them shut down until May 1 according to Mike Musser, the Golf Courses Administrator for the city. He supplied this statement Tuesday:  

“The decision was made today to keep the Columbus Recreation and Parks Department golf courses closed through May 1st.  COVID-19 is a contagious respiratory illness that does not discriminate: anyone exposed can be infected. Therefore, to slow the curve of COVID-19, we believe it is important residents continue to stay home.”  

In cases of COVID-19 where the infected have a strong reaction to the virus, hospitalization and potentially intubation are required. It has also killed people.  

It takes a single mistake to become infected. Due to the long incubation and resulting contagious period with the virus, you would not know you have infected loved ones who may have that strong reaction until its too late.  

Ultimately, it will be up to each individual to determine what level of risk they are willing to take to get out and play a round of golf. 

Copyright 2020 Nexstar Broadcasting, Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

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