Texas Governor Greg Abbott had been reluctant to take aggressive action to try to get his people to stay at home, but on March 31, he enacted a stay-at-home order that is in effect from April 1 through April 30.
Texas citizens have been asked to remain at home unless they have to leave to get food, seek medical treatment, get outdoor exercise or go to work at an essential business. All businesses deemed non-essential, are expected to close or face fines.
In announcing the stay-at-home order, Governor Abbott did not explicitly require golf courses to close, with facilities interpreting that order to mean golf courses were allowed to remain open throughout the duration of the order. As well, golf courses believed they could be maintained during this time.
On April 11, after several days of confusion, the governor and the attorney general have made clear that golf courses can be open. However, there are caveats.
The Texas Golf Association told members that staff who maintain the safety and sanitation of the course are indeed essential and can work. However, the pro shop and other non-essential areas of the property -- including locker rooms, lounges, etc. -- must close. Tee times should be reserved and paid for online.
The confusion stemmed from a statewide conference call on April 7. The city of Alice reported Abbott deemed golf courses non-essential and said they must be closed for the duration of the order. The city of Alice reported this from the call on their municipal website. Alice officials were not the only ones among the more than 1,100 city and county officials on the call to interpret the message similarly.
In an announcement on his website noting state parks would close temporarily, however, the governor did not mention courses. Ultimately, state parks -- and, it seems, golf courses therein -- must close. However, golf courses can otherwise remain open throughout the state.
Meanwhile, the various interpretations in the state led to further confusion. Some clubs reached out to GNN seeking further clarity. Further, officials from various counties have reached out to the Governor for clarity. Kendall County Judge Darrel Lux had multiple conversations with the Governor's offices and communicated to clubs the the directive has been "either clarified or rescinded" and courses could remain open -- albeit with the caveat that this is a fluid situation. However, Cordillera Ranch, a club in Kendall County that told members Wednesday it was closing, then by evening that it was opening.
Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick closed courses on April 7, but he then revised his order to allow courses to operate based on "guidance" he received, provided rules and regulations regarding shared surfaces and social distancing were followed.
Pro golfer Ed Loar, however, tweeted Wednesday night that his club in Rockwall is closing, with Mayor Jim Pruitt personally coming to property to tell Rockwall Country Club they had to close the golf and tennis operation.
I know @GovAbbott isn’t a golfer but this is disappointing to say the least..seems to be some different interpretations in the state..if you’re course is open be happy..guess social distancing in 50 acres isn’t possible?🤷🏼♂️ pic.twitter.com/LQpGYUAwfO
— edward loar (@BigEinBigD) April 9, 2020
The Texas Municipal League reached out to the governor's office, too, and they were told that since courses were indeed deemed non-essential that they had to close. A staffer of the governor texted a response to the league as well, reiterating that golf courses cannot conduct business and cannot have personnel. However, that didn't clarify whether a course could remain open without employees, for example.
Now, we know the situation. Golf courses can be open, but there are restrictions on the number of employees that can be on property.
Courses can close voluntarily or could be ordered closed by a more specific ordinance at a local level. In a number of Texas counties and cities, golf courses had already been required closed. Various governments in the state had closed their owned-and-operated courses as well.
Governor Abbott's executive order on the subject supercedes local rules, but local rules can be more strict provided they don't directly conflict with his order. Now, they're one in the same with areas, like Austin and Dallas, that had closed courses.
Like many governors' orders, the Texas stay-at-home order allows residents to leave their homes for outdoor exercise provided proper precautions are taken and social distancing is observed. However, despite precautions courses were taking, it was clear courses were unable to enforce social distancing with players on the course.
"We’ve come too far to falter now,” Abbott said in announcing the order, which he is reluctant to label a stay-at-home order, although that's a baseline of what it is. "We have made tremendous strides, but we have not yet reached our destination. … Together, we will persevere through this for another month."