Guerrilla golfers sneak to Greens Closed by Pandemic

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DELRAY BEACH, Fla. – The 18 holes of the Boca Delray Golf and Country Club have been closed since late March, when administrators of Palm Beach County, Fla., Decided to close any business and activity that is not considered essential.

Apparently some members did not understand or dislike the message.

"People have called to let us know that they have seen players on the course," said Michelle LaDouceur, the club's property manager. "We don't have 24-hour staff here, nor security cameras. So when people are playing, we can't know and can't control."

Add this to the list of cultural phenomena caused by the pandemic: renegade golfers With about half of the country's jobs closed by state or local leaders, and with the weather in the spring, a few million hard-core golf fans struggle for themselves Many fail

"My wife is not happy to be here," said Ira Lipshutz, 74, who was chipping balls with a friend at the Westchester Country Club in Boynton Beach, Florida, Wednesday. "She's much more careful than me."

Nearby, Diane Koltun got out of a Lexus and walked to the greens with two golf clubs under one arm.

"I think that this is fine, "she said, blocking the sun with her free hand. "We walk around to get some fresh air."

Westchester, a public course, did not appear to have any "Get Lost" signs or locked gates. But course managers across the country have applied yellow warning tape, 'No Prohibitions' warnings. and pins, rakes and tee marks removed.

It doesn't matter. A group of golfers in York, Pa., Ignored the band and played until the police arrived and chased them away. Agents have also been sent to the Greens in Brockton, Massachusetts. In New York City, police have supervised more than 300 golfers from public courses in Staten Island, Brooklyn and Queens. Five players have been summoned $ 50 for violation.

"We must all make sacrifices for the better health of our country," said Crystal Howard, a spokeswoman for New York City Parks. "That includes the temporary shutdown of courses."

The wave break was a source of special annoyance in the Sunshine State, a retreat for retirees who migrated for low loads, fair weather, and golf. Two out of three will not suffice.

The sport is actually allowed under the original & # 39; home-stay & # 39; order from Governor Ron DeSantis, but leaders in Palm Beach, Miami-Dade and Broward counties have replaced that mandate by their own. (That's because the counties are located in Southeast Florida, according to the governor's office home to about 55 percent of the state's Covid-19 businesses.) The state has since become a country of golf ports and have-nots .

For a while, the have-nots searched online for options and traveled to greens. That option slowly disappeared. Recently, Martin County, a 45-minute drive from West Palm Beach, has issued rules restricting play on the courses to members and residents. No outsiders allowed, not even a family.

Golf enthusiasts in the three golfless provinces have since unrest on behalf of the sport. In Palm Beach County, the most furious have distributed the mobile phone number of Dave Kerner, the county mayor, who announced the shutdown and pelted him with phone calls.

"There is also a small contingent that called Smste my parents and said: & # 39; Tell your son to open the golf courses & # 39 ;, & # 39; said Mr. Kerner in a telephone interview. (That's the powerless version of the message.) "I understand the anger. I am a 36 year old mayor who has never heard of and I was the one who played golf in the golf capital of the universe.

Among those taking a more civilian approach is Scott Eckert, a golfer in Boca Raton, who drafted an online petition calling on Mr. Kerner and other Palm Beach County administrators to change his mind. It now has over 8,000 signatures.

"It's pretty questionable to me if they can keep the courses closed," Eckert said in an interview on Sunday. "There is a Bill of Rights, and our civil liberties have been destroyed."

One of the signatories of the petition is Jack Doyle, a former Wall Street director who built a 1,000 square meter training area. in his front yard, complete with sand catchers.

"I can get a bit of a golf fix every day," he said by phone from his home in Manalapan, a town in Palm Beach County.

Like many other golf fans, Doyle believes it was shortsighted for government officials to ban an activity that is not only well-liked but also safe if performed with proper care.

am outside, in the sunlight, in the fresh air. You can keep a social distance from everyone while still getting some exercise and relationships, ”he said. "Having that removed is a shame."

Inactive golfers may seem low on a list of trials caused by Covid-19. But owners and managers of both public and private courses also suffer. Many faced declining revenues before this crisis. The number of golfers in the United States peaked in 2003, with 30 million players, according to the National Golf Foundation, and now stands at about 24 million. Thanks to declining demand and overcrowding during the housing boom, the number of golf courses closing each year (around 150) is now outnumbering many new openings (around 20).

Golf courses do not expect an outpouring of sympathy. The public perception of the industry is reflected in the inclusion in what is informally known as the & # 39; sin list & # 39; from the Internal Revenue Service, a group of companies that have been blocked from a variety of government initiatives, including disaster relief. Others on the list include massage parlors, racecourses and hot tub facilities.

So far, none of the coronavirus programs approved in Washington have referred to the list of sins. But Jay Karen, the director of the National Golf Course Owners Association, says he and his colleagues are on the alert.

"There is a prejudice against the game and business of golf, and it is clearly unfair," said Mr. Karen. "The feeling is that golf courses are owned by a bunch of rich guys, which is a very old story that no longer holds true."

Nationally, 80 percent of the golf is played on so-called public courses. Added Mr. Karen. In terms of turnover and salary, these are companies about the size of a typical restaurant. However, unlike most restaurants, golf courses are outdoors. They would have a reasonable chance of survival, supporters say, if they were allowed to stay open.

"It is a game played in a park of essentially 200 acres, with a maximum of 70 people in the park at once," said Steve Skinner, the director of KemperSports, which manages 130 golf courses. "That's more than two acres per person."

For Peter Weiss, the mayor of Oceanside, California, that seems like enough space. He had hoped that all courses in the city would remain open, despite governor Gavin Newsom's residency order. But at the end of March, the last holdouts drew enough players and media attention that health officials ordered them to close the following day. Out of courtesy, the mayor called to give the courses a heads-up – and see if they had start times for a final round.

One did that. & # 39; Honestly, it was one of my better golfing experiences & # 39; said Mr. Weiss. "And it didn't feel crowded. There are more people at a Trader Joe's."

Mr. Weiss has now joined the masses of wingers. These are people who are dealing with something similar to withdrawal, says Alan Shapiro, a psychologist and author of & # 39; Golf & # 39; s Mental Hazards & # 39 ;. In a typical round, he says, even good golfers hit just a handful of great shots, and they're rare and exciting enough to trigger a mood-changing rush. It's hard to know when that rush happens, meaning wave is what is called an 'intermittent gain'. offers a shock of joy whose timing cannot be predicted.

"That moment of glory is something that golfers jones for, like gamblers at a slot machine," said Dr. Shapiro. & # 39; What should you do now? Read a book? Spending time with the family? Those things are nice, but they don't like to nail a 7 iron right to the flagpole. "

Some golfers did not want to give up the mental buzz of the game without a fight. When Palm Beach County issued its cessation order, a few private clubs decided that the rule did not apply to them.

"We improved the language of the order so that it was clear that it applied to all courses," said Mr. Kerner. To make sure the message got through, "There were two or three courses that the Sheriff whether one of his colleagues should visit and train in a professional manner, "he said

. Kerner said he hoped to reopen golf courses by the end of next week, but admitted the time frame" ambitious & # 39; was. Country Club, or any other course. The moment the county decides it is safe to play golf, the moment it will stop playing golf during the pandemic.

"There there will be many players here, "he said," and unfortunately n not everyone as careful as I am. ”

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