Michigan golf courses ordered to halt play; financial impact is significant

Tony Paul
The Detroit News

It's official: For golfers hoping their sport would provide one last dose of normalcy, it's a swing and a miss.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer's office on Thursday night confirmed that golf workers are not considered "essential" employees during this coronavirus shutdown, and courses must remain closed through the duration of the executive order, which runs through at last April 13.

Fellows Creek in Canton had already shut down, ahead of the order directing all Michigan courses to do so.

This affects all of Michigan's approximately 650 private and public courses.

Many already had taken steps to close during the last week, including Detroit's three city-operated courses, River Rouge, Chandler Park and Rackham, as well as Oakland Hills Country Club and two run by Canton, Pheasant Ridge and Fellows Creek, among others.

Others stubbornly stayed open, albeit with safety precautions such as leaving the pin in or not allowing carts, hoping to take advantage of some mild, early spring weather, particularly Wednesday, while waiting on the governor's official clarification.

"Certainly this will not be received well by some and I know a lot of people are looking for fun outdoor activities," said Kevin Helm, executive director of the PGA of Michigan. "That being said, these steps are being taken by the governor as important measures to help stop the spread of the virus and golf will do its part to be part of the solution.

"Once this virus is under control and the stay at home order is lifted, golf will be there ready to provide a safe and fun escape for individuals to enjoy outside."

There were reports of golfers on some area courses Friday, with temperatures in the high 40s.

Golf courses, in a previous executive order, already had been ordered to close clubhouses and limit food and beverage service.

This latest order affects more than 60,000 employees who work in Michigan's golf industry.

Also, any substantial shutdown of Michigan's golf industry could cost the state tens if not hundreds of millions in economic activity, a huge blow for a sector already operating in such a narrow window for play.

Being so early in the golf season — with many of the state's top resorts in northern Michigan not expected to open until mid-April anyway — could help lessen the financial impact, said Chris Whitten, executive director of the Golf Association of Michigan.

"I don't have numbers off the top of my head, but in some ways I guess it's good we're still just at the very beginning of the season," Whitten said. "The important thing will be the way we return when golf opens again, and the weather we have in the spring and summer.

"The overall environment and situation that we're all in right now is disappointing and frustrating and hard for a lot of people."

The GAM and PGA of Michigan each run more than 30 tournaments — the GAM oversees more than 100 days of competition — starting in late April. Neither has cancelled or rescheduled anything yet, with both taking a wait-and-see approach.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984