By Ken MacLeod
Director of Golf Pat McCrate greeted every arriving golfer at LaFortune Park Golf Course in Tulsa on a gorgeous Sunday morning outside the pro shop doors with a run down of Covid-19 related precautions, the first of which was that no more than three golfers at a time were allowed in the clubhouse to pay.
Single rider carts, walking preferred, no touching pins, raised balls in the cups, maintain social distance. None of that was good enough, or perhaps even understood, by the wave of folks who complained on social media or via phone that playing golf should end while Tulsa is in the midst of a shelter in place order issued Saturday by Tulsa Mayor G.T. Bynum.
And though the only mention of golf courses in the order was in Section 6 and referred specifically to city-owned facilities, Bynum told Tulsa County Commissioner Ron Peters Sunday that anyone playing LaFortune Park was in violation of the order. LaFortune Park will thus be closed beginning Monday through at least April 15.
The Tulsa County Board of Commissioners decided Monday to close its second course, South Lakes in Jenks, after play Monday. Jenks adopted a Shelter In Place order that did not specifically mention golf courses among a lengthly list of facilities that were ordered to close.
The two city-owned facilities at Page Belcher and Mohawk Park shut down after play on Saturday.
The shutdowns will mean losses of hundreds of thousands of dollars in revenue and layoffs of most employees, McCrate said.
At this writing, courses in suburban cities such as Battle Creek and Forest Ridge in Broken Arrow, Bailey Ranch in Owasso, Sapulpa Golf Course, Heritage Hills in Claremore and most private clubs in and near the city of Tulsa are still open.
It is also one less option for shut-in citizens to be outside in what would seem to be relative safety.
“You can never eliminate all the risk, but I certainly think playing golf is far safer right now than going to a grocery store,” McCrate said. “And the mental health aspect is another factor. I had a gentleman in the parking lot today tell me it’s the first time in two weeks he’s done anything but be in the house and he was so appreciative. All the golfers we had today expressed how happy they were for the opportunity to be there.”
Section 3 of the executive order allows citizens to go outside to walk, bike, hike or run. Section 6 shuts down city-owned courses. That is why LaFortune Park as a county-owned facility remained open Sunday after the order was given Saturday.
Golf courses throughout the state were debating whether to close or remain open on Tuesday after Governor Kevin Stitt issued a executive order closing non-essential businesses in every county that had a positive case of Covid-19. On Wednesday afternoon he issued a list of businesses that could remain open and golf was included.
On Saturday Bynum and Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt issued Shelter In Place orders. The public courses in Oklahoma City closed after play Saturday as did the City of Tulsa courses.
The state of Ohio, after closing all of its courses with a Shelter In Place order last week, changed directions and allowed all courses to remain open using social distancing guidelines and other precautions. Each state, and even areas within each state, have been coming down on different sides of whether playing golf risks spreading the virus or is a safe haven for exercise and stress relief in a time when most other activities are shuttered due to their natural requirements of close contact. Playing smartly, golfers can easily maintain far more than the required six feet of separation between them throughout a round.