May 6, 2020

With Governor Reopening N.J. Golf Courses, Local Clubs Welcome Back Throng of Players

TEEING OFF: Raj Bhardwaj, right, tees off on the first hole at the Princeton Country Club last Saturday with Venu Avula looking on as golf courses reopened across New Jersey pursuant to an executive order issued last Thursday by Gov. Phil Murphy. Golf courses had been closed since late March as part of the social distancing guidelines set forth by Murphy in response to the COVID-19 pandemic. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

By Bill Alden

By issuing Executive Order 133 last Thursday, Gov. Phil Murphy unleashed thousands of golfers to tee off across New Jersey last weekend after courses had been closed since late March due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Under the terms of the order, parks, and golf courses were reopened on Saturday morning with Murphy acknowledging that “we understand that New Jerseyans want to get outside and get some fresh air as the weather warms up,” but adding that “this should not serve as an open invitation to rush back to normalcy and break the necessary social distancing measures we’ve put in place.”

Local clubs did experience a rush as golfers wasted no time booking starting times as soon as they could.

At TPC Jasna Polana on Province Line Road, members reserved all openings for Saturday within minutes of the club’s website opening its online tee sheet on Thursday evening.

In an email to members, Jasna Polana club management noted that “while we knew the demand to play golf would be the highest in our history, we would not imagine the starting sheet would be completely booked within six minutes.”

As for the Mercer County Park Commission’s four golf courses, its online booking service temporarily crashed Thursday evening due to the volume of players looking to reserve tee times for Saturday.

OPEN FOR BUSINESS: Princeton Country Club course manager Jack Sceri was ready to greet golfers last Saturday. With Gov. Phil Murphy reopening courses across the state, effective May 2, the Mercer County Park Commission golf course website’s online booking service temporarily crashed Thursday evening due to the volume of players looking to reserve tee times for the weekend. (Photo by Frank Wojciechowski)

When golfers got out this weekend to chase after birdies in sunny, 70 degree conditions, they were faced with a new normal as Murphy’s order compelled golf courses to adopt minimum social distancing policies under Phase 1 guidelines that included:

  • Implementing electronic or telephone reservation and payment systems while still providing options for populations that do not have access to internet service or credit cards
  • Extending tee times to 16 minutes apart
  • Limiting the use of golf carts to one person unless being shared by immediate family members, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners
  • Requiring frequent, and after each use, sanitization of high-touch areas such as restroom facilities, range buckets, golf carts, and push carts
  • Restricting the touching of golf holes and flags
  • Closing golf center buildings, pro shops, and other buildings and amenities
  • Removing bunker rakes and other furniture-like benches, water coolers, and ball washers from the course
  • Discontinuing club and equipment rentals
  • Prohibiting the use of caddies
  • Limiting tee times to two players unless the foursome consists of immediate family, caretakers, household members, or romantic partners.

In addition, golf courses were allowed to impose additional restrictions as necessary to limit person-to-person interactions. The order also recommended, but does not order, that employees, players, and other individuals on the golf course wear cloth face coverings while on the golf course. Additionally, the order clarifies that miniature golf courses and driving ranges must remain closed.

As Murphy announced the decision to reopen the courses, he warned golfers that he reserved the right to rescind the order if they did not behave and follow the guidelines.

But with players used to following the intricate Rules of Golf which cover etiquette, definitions, and include 34 detailed rules of play, they should be able to navigate the social distancing guidelines and stay on course.