Berkshire golf courses anxiously wait for green light to reopen

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PITTSFIELD — While golf courses in several neighboring states have been given the go-ahead to reopen, Massachusetts courses are still awaiting the green light.

Last week, Gov. Charlie Baker extended the closure of nonessential businesses, including golf courses, to May 18. A ticker resting atop the website for Williamstown's Waubeeka Golf Links is now counting down the minutes until that day.

"We've put together different game plans for when we may be able to open based on what happens," said Eric Tiele, the head golf professional at Waubeeka. "A lot of it comes down to what we can and can't do."

Maintenance crews were deemed essential workers when coronavirus-related bans and restrictions started, meaning courses are prepared to tee off the season as soon as possible.

"If you don't maintain golf courses they fail — and fail quickly," said Jim Conant, the golf course and grounds superintendent at the Country Club of Pittsfield. "We feel golf is pretty low-risk and is a game of integrity. If we give golfers guidelines, we are confident they will follow through."

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Golfers throughout the state are trying to make their voices heard. A "Please Let Massachusetts Golf" online petition currently has more than 36,000 signatures.

"Even as of last week, we put together a formal packet that was presented to Charlie Baker and his team, and one area we stressed were the health benefits of golf, starting with public health, mental health and physical health," explained Jesse Menachem, executive director and CEO of Mass. Golf, in an interview with Catherine Carmignani, the Mass. Golf Director of Communications and Marketing.

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"We were able to work with Dr. Bill Healey, an orthopedic surgeon," Menachem added. "We presented an executive summary of that, really reinforced what the sport of golf can provide to residents in the commonwealth."

On Wednesday, Baker said that he would leave the decision to open courses up to Lt. Gov. Karyn Polito, and the reopening task force she is leading.

Mass. Golf and the Alliance of Massachusetts Golf Organizations met with the task force over the weekend. In a statement Sunday, the group said that it appreciated "the work being done by the advisory board and we look forward to working with them to keep the golf community safe."

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"We are anxiously waiting for the guidelines," Conant said. "Eric Mabee (CCOP's head golf professional), Melissa Aitken (Chief Executive Officer) and I have developed a few different plans, we're just waiting for the official word."

Some of the ideas tossed around at Waubeeka include limiting it to one person inside the pro ship at a time, or keeping the shop closed and collecting fees digitally. They've even discussed changing the latches on doors in order to remove contact points. Both courses added that everything is disinfected at the start of the year.

"If we can have carts, we have plenty of disinfection to keep them clean," Tiele said. "A lot of it comes down to what we can and can't do. We have probably five different plans in face."

"There is a huge element of the unknown," Conant added, "but we will meet any and every guideline to the letter and be thrilled to get the course open."

Jake Mendel can be reached at, @Jmendel94 on Twitter and 413-496-6252.


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