Latest Whitmer executive order again causes confusion in golf; state alliance working for clarity

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

Just like a week ago, the Michigan Golf Alliance is scrambling to see if it can still, well, scramble.

The alliance, made up of many of the state's approximately 650 golf courses, was on a conference call Monday afternoon trying to gain clarity on if Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's latest executive order — essentially shutting down all services not considered essential, as the confirmed coronavirus cases continue to rise rapidly throughout Michigan — includes golf.

Pine Trace in Rochester Hills, like all Michigan golf courses, is in a holding pattern.

Chris Whitten, executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan, told The Detroit News the alliance is trying to confirm with the governor's office on whether golf is included.

"We will update members across alliance platforms as details become clear," Whitten said.

The state's alliance includes GAM, the Michigan Golf Course Association, PGA of Michigan, Michigan Golf Course Superintendents Association, Michigan Turfgrass Foundation and the Greater Michigan Chapter of the Club Managers Association.

Golf would seem to be considered non-essential, but a line in Whitmer's executive order about exemptions reads: "To engage in outdoor activity, including walking, hiking, running, cycling, or any other recreational activity consistent with remaining at least six feet from people from outside the individual’s household."

Some have suggested golf could carry on by requiring online pay, not allowing carts, and mandating that all flag sticks remain in the cup.

But many courses aren't waiting around. For instance, Detroit's three city-operated golf courses, Rackham, Rouge Park and Chandler Park, all have closed, a city spokesperson said.

Last week, under a limited state shutdown by Whitmer, golf courses originally thought they were included, and many courses were booting players off the course as the deadline loomed. Then the governor's office quickly clarified that the order applied to just clubhouses, and limited beer and food services.

The state's golf industry brings in revenue of more than $4 billion a year, and pays out wages of more than $1 billion, to more than 60,000 workers. There are more than 500,000 regular golfers living in Michigan.

Last week, Whitmer's initial order caused panic in the industry, since many players were out on the courses amid unseasonably mild temperatures. This week, snow has returned, but warmer weather is expected back again mid-week. Early April is typically the target date for ramping up operations.

Grand Traverse Resort and Spa, in Traverse City, wasn't set to open to golfers until next month, but definitely is keeping an eye on how things progress. Any shutdown beyond Whitmer's Monday order, which runs through April 13, could be crippling to a state golf industry that operates under such a narrow window. With many courses, as soon as they can see green or brown on the ground, they'll open, trying to make a buck and win the battle against some tough profit margins.

"Like other businesses, there's a lot of uncertainty," said Caroline Rizzo, a spokesperson for the resort — which includes Wolverine, Spruce Run and The Bear courses. "Unfortunately, very drastic changes and measures are being taken, and there will be impact fell for some time, with all industries.

"Fingers crosses, when things hopefully slow down and things can get healthy again, that we have a beautiful summer and fall and people do get to play golf."

Twitter: @tonypaul1984