Are Montana golf courses "essential" during COVID-19 restrictions?

Posted at 12:25 PM, Apr 07, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-07 14:25:56-04

GREAT FALLS — The pinnacle of golf tournaments, The Masters, announced in Monday tentative dates to make up this year’s postponed event. The 2020 Masters will now take place from Nov. 9 to Nov. 15.

If you’re looking for a slightly more casual round of golf during the coronavirus pandemic, access to one depends on where you live. In Connecticut, golf was deemed non-essential. In Arizona, which is home to over 300 golf courses, Governor Doug Ducey included golf courses in his list of essential businesses.

In Montana, there’s no clear answer, although technically, because golf courses are being allowed to remain open for the time being, they can be considered essential. Here’s an excerpt from Governor Steve Bullock’s press release on March 26, in which he outlines social distancing requirements and essential business industries, among other things.

Bullock says that leaving your home for essential activities is permitted. He then lists a few categories of “essential activities.” Under “For Outdoor Activity,” it reads: “To engage in outdoor activity, provided that individuals comply with social distancing, as defined below, such as, by way of example and without limitation, walking, hiking, running, or biking. Individuals may go to public parks and open outdoor recreation areas, including public lands in Montana provided they remain open to recreation. Montanans are discouraged from outdoor recreation activities that pose enhanced risks of injury or could otherwise stress the ability of local first responders to address the COVID-19 emergency (e.g., backcountry skiing in a manner inconsistent with avalanche recommendations or in closed terrain).”

Golf, or any other sports for that matter, is not explicitly mentioned in the press release.

There is an apparent grey area on what is considered “essential,” which encompasses several industries, including recreation. Governor Bullock repeatedly reminds Montanans that going outside to enjoy the outdoors is perfectly fine, as long as social distancing guidelines are strictly adhered to. In theory, this means that, as long as everyone is at least six feet away and there are no large groups, golfing falls into this category.

This grey area is largely the result of the federal government’s refusal to issue sweeping guidelines that outline what exactly qualifies as an essential business. The Trump Administration has issued recommendations regarding which industries may continue to work uninhibited by CDC guidelines for social distancing and statewide stay-at-home orders, but no official, legal declarations.

This leaves state governments to decide and enforce these rules on their own, which is why we are seeing disparities from state to state. In Montana, you can still hit the links, but some golf courses are not as accessible as they usually are, and not all the normal services will be available.

“The clubhouse is closed other than takeout meals. The golf course is open but with the clubhouse being closed, that means the pro shop is closed, our tennis facility is also closed,” said Michael Bowman, the General Manager of Meadow Lark Country Club.
“We are allowing golf as per the direction of the Governor, but we have to abide by social distancing rules. We’re not renting carts, it is member cart use only and they have to have single riders or walking, and they have to abide by the social distancing rules.”

Guests cannot play at Meadow Lark currently, only members. The club is also only allowing one rider per cart, and is only permitting private carts, no rentals.

Essential Businesses and Operations. For the purposes of this Directive, Essential Businesses and Operations means Health Care and Public Health Operations, Human Services Operations, Essential Governmental Functions, and Essential Infrastructure, and the following:

  • a. Stores that sell groceries and medicine. Grocery stores, pharmacies, farm and produce stands, supermarkets, convenience stores, and other establishments engaged in the retail sale of groceries, canned food, dry goods, frozen foods, fresh fruits and vegetables, pet supplies, fresh meats, fish, and poultry, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, and any other household consumer products (such as cleaning and personal care products). This includes stores that sell groceries, medicine, including medication not requiring a medical prescription, and also that sell other non-grocery products, and products necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences and Essential Businesses and Operations;
  • b. Food and beverage production and agriculture. Food and beverage manufacturing, production, processing, and cultivation, including farming, livestock, fishing, baking, and other production agriculture, including cultivation, marketing, production, and wholesale or retail distribution of animals and goods for consumption; licensed medical cannabis dispensaries and licensed cannabis cultivation centers; and businesses that provide food, shelter, and other necessities of life for animals, including veterinary and animal health services, animal shelters, rescues, shelters, kennels, and adoption facilities; businesses that provide equipment, transportation, seed, feed, fertilizer, or other products or services critical to food and livestock production;
  • c. Organizations that provide charitable and social services. Businesses and religious and secular nonprofit organizations, including food banks, when providing food, shelter, and social services, and other necessities of life for economically disadvantaged or otherwise needy individuals, individuals who need assistance as a result of this emergency, and people with disabilities;
  • d. Media. Newspapers, television, radio, and other media services;
  • e. Gas stations and businesses needed for transportation. Gas stations and auto supply, auto repair, and related facilities and bicycle shops and related facilities;
  • f. Financial and real estate services and institutions. Banks, consumer lenders, including but not limited, to pawnbrokers, accountants, consumer installment lenders and sales finance lenders, credit unions, appraisers, realtors or others providing real estate services, title companies, financial markets, trading and futures exchanges, affiliates of financial institutions, entities that issue bonds, related financial institutions, and institutions selling financial products;
  • g. Hardware and supply stores. Hardware stores and businesses that sell electrical, plumbing, and heating material;
  • h. Critical trades. Building and Construction Tradesmen and Tradeswomen, and other trades including but not limited to plumbers, electricians, exterminators, cleaning and janitorial staff for commercial and governmental properties, security staff, operating engineers, HVAC, painting, moving and relocation services, and other service providers who provide services that are necessary to maintaining the safety, sanitation, and essential operation of residences, Essential Activities, and Essential Businesses and Operations;
  • i. Mail, post, shipping, logistics, delivery, and pick-up services. Post offices and other businesses that provide shipping and delivery services, and businesses that ship or deliver groceries, food, alcoholic and non-alcoholic beverages, goods or services to end users or through commercial channels;
  • j. Educational institutions. Educational institutions—including public and private pre-K-12 schools, colleges, and universities—for purposes of facilitating remote learning, performing critical research, or performing other essential functions consistent with prior Directives on school closures and the continued provision of certain services, provided that social distancing of six-feet per person is maintained to the greatest extent possible. This Directive is consistent with and does not amend or supersede the March 24, 2020 Directive closing non-residential public schools through April 10, 2020;
  • k. Laundry services. Laundromats, dry cleaners, industrial laundry services, and laundry service providers;
  • l. Restaurants for consumption off-premises. Restaurants and other facilities that prepare and serve food, but only for consumption off-premises, through such means as in-house delivery, third-party delivery, drive-through, curbside pick-up, and carry-out. Schools and other entities that typically provide food services to students or members of the public may continue to do so under this Directive on the condition that the food is provided to students or members of the public on a pickup and takeaway basis only. Schools and other entities that provide food services under this exemption shall not permit the food to be eaten at the site where it is provided, or at any other gathering site due to the virus’s propensity to physically impact surfaces and personal property. This exception is to be interpreted consistent with the restrictions on on-premises dining and beverage businesses, as well as the expanded options for delivery and take out, provided in the March 24, 2020 Directive, Section 2.;
  • m. Supplies to work from home. Businesses that sell, manufacture, or supply products needed for people to work from home;
  • n. Supplies for Essential Businesses and Operations. Businesses that sell, manufacture, or supply other Essential Businesses and Operations with the support or materials necessary to operate, including computers, audio and video electronics, household appliances; IT and telecommunication equipment; hardware, paint, flat glass; electrical, plumbing and heating material; sanitary equipment; personal hygiene products; food, food additives, ingredients and components; medical and orthopedic equipment; optics and photography equipment; diagnostics, food and beverages, chemicals, soaps and detergent; and firearm and ammunition suppliers and retailers for purposes of safety and security;
  • o. Transportation. Airlines, taxis, transportation network providers (such as Uber and Lyft), vehicle rental services, paratransit, and other private, public, and commercial transportation and logistics providers necessary for Essential Activities and other purposes expressly authorized in this Directive;
  • p. Home-based care and services. Home-based care for adults, seniors, children, and/or people with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, substance use disorders, and/or mental illness, including caregivers such as nannies who may travel to the child’s home to provide care, and other in-home services including meal delivery;
  • q. Residential facilities and shelters. Residential facilities and shelters for adults, seniors, children, and/or people with developmental disabilities, intellectual disabilities, substance use disorders, and/or mental illness;
  • r. Professional services. Professional services, such as legal services, accounting services, insurance services, information technology services, real estate services (including appraisal and title services);
  • s. Manufacture, distribution, and supply chain for critical products and industries. Manufacturing companies, distributors, and supply chain companies producing and supplying essential products and services in and for industries such as pharmaceutical, technology, biotechnology, Health Care, chemicals and sanitization, waste pickup and disposal, agriculture, food and beverage, transportation, energy, steel and steel products, petroleum and fuel, forest products, mining, construction, national defense, communications, as well as products used by other Essential Businesses and Operations.
  • t. Critical labor union functions. Labor union essential activities including the administration of health and welfare funds and personnel checking on the wellbeing and safety of members providing services in Essential Businesses and Operations – provided that these checks should be done by telephone or remotely where possible.
  • u. Hotels and motels. Hotels and motels, to the extent used for lodging and delivery or carry-out food services.
  • v. Funeral services. Funeral, mortuary, cremation, burial, cemetery, and related services.

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