Michigan golfers itching to play, but Whitmer won't ease the restrictions

Tony Paul
The Detroit News
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Despite pressure from some state lawmakers as well as Michigan's golf associations, Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is keeping the tee sheet empty until at least the end of the month.

Golf remains unavailable in Michigan as part of Whitmer's multiple executive orders, the latest of which extended the stay-home order through April 30 and added additional restrictions.

Lyon Oaks in Wixom, like all Michigan golf courses, is shut down by Gov. Whitmer.

Golf, of all things, has taken center stage in the stay-home debate, given the state has urged residents to continue getting exercise, but not when it comes to hitting the links.

Landscaping is in a similar situation to golf — while activities like boating and fishing remain allowed.

"They are not necessary to sustain life," Whitmer said, referencing golf and landscaping. "To be candid, just by engaging in it can expose people to risk, serious risk."

The issue has become a polarizing one in recent days, especially as temperatures soared earlier in the week, before a later-week dip.

Michigan has some 650 golf courses, and it's an industry that registers in the billions. Given the seasons, the state's golfing window is narrow, and any shutdown of any length can be crippling to the bottom line. That's why if the weather allows for it, Michigan golf courses will open on Christmas to make a buck.

There also are some 60,000 golf-course employees, most of which are now out of work — though maintenance staff remains on the job, to keep the courses up for when they are allowing play again.

"I would have liked in this second stay at home for them to develop guidelines to open more things up, not shut more things down," said Steve Adams, a recreational golfer from Dexter. "Even if I walked with someone, you can maintain plenty of distance on a course; even while playing together."

That's the main argument from golfers: That several steps can be done to make it a safe activity.

Among the precautions that could be taken: Pay online, not allow carts (or if you do allow carts, just one person per cart), keep the flagsticks in, and remove rakes from bunkers.

"I fail to see how golf is more dangerous than takeout, in fact there's far more human contact picking up food," said John Goetz, a golfer from Ann Arbor.

"I feel they're allowing one to help the industry and ignoring the other."

Some states under stay-home orders are still allowing golfers, including Arizona — where they're actually still holding mini-tour events — as well Michigan's neighbors, Indiana, Illinois and Ohio. There were reports recently of many Michigan residents traveling to Ohio to get their fix.

But given Michigan's place on the coronavirus heat map — Michigan, and particularly Detroit, are among the hardest-hit regions in the country — municipal courses in Toledo have taken to not allowing Michigan residents on their courses.

"Golf should be allowed," said Scott Sparks, a Ferndale resident who plays golf for Detroit Mercy. "You pay online, you walk and walk only. No carts. You play in twosomes and tee times are 15 minutes apart.

"But if you told me, 'Hey, no more golf for the next two-three weeks and we're back to normal, I am all for it."

Earlier in the week, the Michigan Golf Alliance, which is made up of the Golf Association of Michigan and the PGA of Michigan among other outlets, sent a letter to Whitmer saying it supports the "stay home, stay safe" order, but that golf should be reconsidered.

The alliance, in the letter, said it has heard from many golfers who are wanting to play, for "recreation, exercise and relief."

This follows last week's urging from two lawmakers to overturn the golfing ban. Rep. Graham Filler, a Republican who represents parts of Clinton and Gratiot counties in mid-Michigan, and Rep. Ann Bollin, a Republican who represents Brighton and surrounding communities, both sent letters to Whitmer recommending golf be opened back up.

Filler, a golfer, said amid this crisis, any industry that can safely open up should be allowed to.

"We can't live in a concept where everyone needs to sit on their couch at home," Filler told The News.

Attorney general Dana Nessel added fuel to the debate this week when she wrote on Twitter, "I just can’t hear about one more black health care worker, police officer or bus driver die while getting a barrage of complaints from white folks outraged because they can’t go golfing."

Whitmer's first executive order, early in the coronavirus outbreak, allowed golf but with limited clubhouse bar and restaurant services, but the second one shut it down entirely.


Twitter: @tonypaul1984

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