Bangor Municipal Golf Course head pro Rob Jarvis is pictured hitting a shot in 2015. Jarvis supports the opening of Maine golf courses if approved by Gov. Janet Mills. Credit: Ashley L. Conti

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With May 1 on the horizon, golfers across Maine are waiting to see if Gov. Janet Mills will lift the tag of “non-essential” businesses placed on courses so players can tee it up.

Some courses opened briefly in March with extra precautions in place to limit the spread of the coronavirus, but on March 31 Mills ordered them and other entities to remain closed through April.

[Our COVID-19 tracker contains the most recent information on Maine cases by county]

Mills had feared that because courses in Massachusetts and New Hampshire weren’t open, those golfers would flock to courses in Maine and potentially spread the virus.

According to Golf Digest, Maine is one of only 14 states in which golf courses are shut down.

Maine golfers, through an online petition, are asking Mills to consider opening courses on May 1 with precautionary measures in place to keep people safe.

When contacted for comment in regard to golf, the governor’s office referred to a statement Mills issued Friday about reopening Maine’s economy.

“We all know that reopening too soon and too aggressively will likely cause a secondary surge in COVID 19 cases, jeopardizing the lives of Maine people and further destabilizing the economy. None of us want that,” Mills said.

She said the guidance of the federal government, economic leaders and healthcare experts will determine when Maine lifts some of the restrictions.

“We too are planning a phased-in reopening, tailored to the demographics and various economic sectors of our state,” Mills said. “Ultimately, the protocols we adopt, made after consulting with people from all parts of the state, will be guided by fact, science and public health expertise.”

Elsewhere in New England, New Hampshire, Massachusetts and Vermont also are not allowing golf. Courses are open in Connecticut and Rhode Island.

“Governor Mills made the right decision [to close the courses],” said Rob Jarvis, the golf pro at Bangor Municipal Golf Course and the former president of the New England PGA. “The factor she listed in her release is exactly what happened in Rhode Island. Over 50 percent of the rounds played in Rhode Island were by Massachusetts golfers. They were tailgating in the parking lots.”

Rhode Island has since restricted golf to Rhode Island residents.

Limiting play to state residents could be an option for Maine, Jarvis said. They could be required to show a Maine driver’s license or state ID card to play.

He nonetheless stressed the need for caution. A friend of his, a 63-year-old golf pro in Florida, died of COVID-19 that he reportedly contracted at the course. Jarvis said his friend did have a compromised immune system stemming from a previous illness.

“When the time comes around where we can play again, we have to make sure our golfers can have fun, safely,” he said.

Golf courses operating during the pandemic have implemented numerous rules to limit golfers and staff to potential COVID-19 exposure. Clubhouses, pro shops and restaurants are closed and payments are taken outside or online.

On the course, sand trap rakes, ball washers and benches have been removed and inserts in the cups protrude from the holes so golfers don’t have to remove their ball or touch the flag stick. Tee times are staggered to leave plenty of time between groups and carts may be used with only one golfer or by two family members living in the same home.

Pieter DeVos, the golf pro at the Kebo Valley Club in Bar Harbor, said health is the first priority and that his course will follow the guidelines issues by the Maine Center for Disease Control and Prevention.

“Golf is a sport that lends itself to social distancing,” DeVos said. “People are making it happen in other states.”

John Snyer, owner of Hermon Meadow Golf Club, had opened in March before the Mills shut down golf courses. He believes the sport can be played taking safety precautions.

“Maine people are going to follow the guidelines. They don’t want to have golf and then lose it again,” he said.

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