Gov. Greg Abbott’s comment about the status of golf courses during the COVID-19 pandemic has created more confusion than clarity in the golf community.
Near the end of a conference call with county judges and mayors Tuesday, Abbott was asked if golf courses could stay open. His response, according to two judges who were on the call, was, “No. They should practice in their own backyard.”
On Thursday, Abbott spokesman John Wittman told The Dallas Morning News that a golf club can’t operate as a business with employees on the premises serving customers.
“That doesn’t mean, though, that individual golfers or even small groups of individual golfers can’t go out and play on their own,” Wittman said.
That might allow country club members to play at their courses, but it would not apply to daily fee public courses.
Those in the golf industry remain skeptical, preferring something in writing or a statement directly from the governor.
“Until, and only if we hear directly from the governor’s office, the status of golf in Texas will continue to be determined county to county and judge to judge,” Mark Harrison, executive director/CEO of the Northern Texas PGA, wrote to his members.
McKinney Mayor George Fuller told The News in an email Thursday, he believes the statements Abbott made Tuesday were commentary and not in the form of a directive.
On Tuesday, a motion to close courses in McKinney, which would have included TPC Craig Ranch, was defeated.
Marc Rylander, spokesman for Texas Attorney General Ken Paxton, said Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, asked Paxton for an informal opinion on courses staying open.
Rylander said “it’s debatable” whether golf courses should be closed or not because while they may well be nonessential, Abbott’s orders have encouraged Texans to continue to exercise and engage in recreational activities, as long as they do so with social distancing.
“Golf courses are doing their thing all over the state,” Rylander said.
Frank said the letter requests “clarification and guidance on a number of issues regarding local governments’ role in regulating so-called ‘non-essential’ businesses under the governor’s order.”
According to the governor’s March 31 executive order, which expires April 30, “This executive order does not prohibit people from accessing essential services or engaging in essential daily activities, such as going to the grocery store or gas station, providing or obtaining other essential services, visiting parks, hunting or fishing, or engaging in physical activity like jogging or bicycling, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and to minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household.”
Denton County Judge Andy Eads has interpreted that to mean that all golf courses should be closed. Dallas County Judge Clay Jenkins has included golf courses on his list of essential businesses. Tarrant County and Collin County have allowed courses to remain open.
Course maintenance continues whether or not golfers are allowed to play.
“This is a challenging time with confusing and conflicting information at just about every turn,” North Texas Golf Course Superintendent Association KD Davis, superintendent at Royal Oaks Country Club, wrote to his members. “It is comforting to be considered ‘essential’ to the golf industry, even if that means we adjust course or adapt strategies daily. This hardship will pass, they always do.”
Staff writer Robert Garrett in Austin contributed to this report.
Read more golf stories from The Dallas Morning News here.