Representatives from the various County Health Departments across the state of Ohio decided they don’t like the Governor’s Order of golf courses being open as outdoor recreation areas, even if those courses are following all of the guidelines related to cleanliness and social distancing.
So a number of County Health Departments decided as a group to close down their golf courses, county by county.
On Thursday, March 26th, on a statewide local health department conference call, Socrates Tuch, the Legal Counsel for the Ohio Department of Health, and Lance Himes, Chief of Staff for the Ohio Department of Health, gave the opinion that golf courses are non-essential businesses with no exemption under Section 5c (open outdoor recreation area), and are to remain closed under the Director’s orders.
Clark County wasted no time sending out the first letters to the courses in their county, an hour after that conference call.
The Clark County letter [PDF] states that golf courses are “non-essential” and thus should be closed. But golf courses never thought themselves essential, which seems obvious. Rather, golf courses are an “open outdoor recreation area” under the exemption outlined in 5c as the reason to remain open for public benefit.
In fact, on Monday, March 23, the day the Order took effect, the governor’s press director, Dan Tierney, replied to a question I submitted to about a dozen Statehouse staffers on this very topic. His reply cited 5c as the proper rational for golf courses, assuming that courses “follow the orders requirements in Section 15 related to social distancing, hygiene, and sanitation.”
Both the Governor and Lieutenant Governor have stated many, many times in their daily press conferences this week that any business that reads the Order and can make a clear case as to how an exemption applies to them can remain open. This statement has been made 3-4 times per day. That’s why this maneuver is so disappointing to courses and golfers.
The fact that so many course operators read the Order in the same way and chose to stay open while following the guidelines – including the Cleveland Metroparks Golf Courses! – should give all of the County Health Departments pause.
Today’s decision credited to Mr. Tuch and Mr. Himes is shocking to all of those course operators who have been working diligently to give people that safe, open outdoor recreation area they need to decompress from all the stress of the last few weeks.
It seems following all of the Section 15 sanitizing and distancing guidelines isn’t the concern here.
I have contacted both Mr. Tuch and Mr. Himes asking that they please explain their opinions. I will present their responses in full when they are provided.
Golf course operators should remember that they have a right to be open under the Governor’s order. Courses only need to close if their County Health Department contacts them directly and orders them to do so.
So for now, stay open.
But there is a chance that a letter could be coming to every golf course, in every county, any day now.