ALBANY – New York will allow golfers to hit the course and boaters to hit the water during the coronavirus pandemic after all. Empire State Development, the state authority in charge of determining essential and nonessential businesses, updated its guidance for golf courses Friday, opening the door for them to reopen to golfers so long as almost all direct employees are not on premises.
On Saturday, New York joined the states of Connecticut and New Jersey to open up their marinas, boatyards and boat launches for recreational use. Previously, marinas were only open for boaters performing essential services, meaning recreational boating wasn't permitted. The reversals are the latest steps the state has taken to clarify its list of essential businesses and services, which determine what can and cannot stay open while the COVID-19 crisis is ongoing.
Golfers will have to walk the course and carry their own bags without a motorized cart, according to Dani Lever, New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo's communications director. They will also be required to maintain a strict social distance of at least six feet. No gatherings of any kind will be allowed on the course, she said. Public and private courses will be allowed to open to golfers, according to Cuomo's office. It will be up to the owner or operator to decide whether to open under the ground rules laid out by the state.
The state issued the updated guidance Friday after a week of uncertainty for golf courses. Last week, Empire State Development classified all golf courses as "nonessential," which meant they were prohibited from having their employees report to work on site. Melissa DeRosa, top aide to Cuomo, said April 10 that golfing was "counter to the message" the state is trying to send people, who have been encouraged to stay home.
But several prominent golf associations made the case that the nonessential designation would still allow members of private courses to play, so long as no employees were on site and the golfers maintained social distance. And some municipal courses suggested they could remain open because local governments are exempt from the nonessential designation.
On Friday, Empire State Development made clear that golf courses are still considered nonessential, meaning most of their employees still can't report to work. But the courses can employ security personnel -- an essential service -- to ensure that golfers are maintaining six feet of social distance, the state authority said. Landscapers, also an essential service, will also be allowed on the course.
A starter, who oversees when people tee off, is considered security personnel. ESD's guidance makes specific mention of private courses, which led some course owners to believe only private courses could open. But that's not the case: Local governments are exempt, so municipal courses can open, too.