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Golf ball image via Pexels user Thomas Ward

published on April 3, 2020 - 2:50 PM
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Fresno County is taking the same approach as the City of Fresno in telling golf courses to close.

On Thursday, the county’s Environmental Health Department ordered Belmont Country Club to close, according to Jordan Scott, public information officer with the County of Fresno.

He believes other golf courses in the county received or will receive similar notices.

On March 19, the City of Fresno in no uncertain terms included golf courses and driving ranges as non-essential businesses “that shall close.”

A public records request with the Fresno City Attorney’s Office resulted in a list of 44 businesses that have been sent notices to stop operations. Two of those notices included Copper River Country Club and San Joaquin Country Club.

Management at Copper River Country Club reached out to the Fresno City Attorney’s office asking for clarity on whether privately owned golf courses were included in Mayor Lee Brand’s list of businesses “to close,” said Michael Tatham, general counsel with Consolidated Land Co., owner and developer of Copper River Country Club. Once the City Attorney responded, they closed “immediately,” he said.

No one at Fort Washington Country Club or Riverside Golf Course was immediately available to comment.

Fresno County had originally hoped for more “voluntary compliance,” Scott said. Fresno County Sheriff Margaret Mims released a video today reserving the right of the Sheriff’s Department to enforce compliance, but requested instead for businesses to comply voluntarily.

“Flagrant disregard for public health and safety will be dealt with, including the possibility of large fines,” Mims said in the video.

“People are making tough choices and if they make tough choices to close doors, we hope they do that,” Scott said.

Fresno County’s list of essential businesses comes directly from Gov. Gavin Newsom’s list issued March 22, expanding on the executive order made March 19.

Sherwood Forest Golf Club said on its website it was closed due to state orders regarding COVID-19.

A person reached at Sunnyside Country Club Friday morning declined to go on the record for this story. In Madera County, no one answered at Dragonfly Golf Course. However, the Dragonfly website said the course is open and accepting reservations up to two days in advance. The driving range is also open, but payments for both the driving range and golf course are limited to credit card transactions. Additionally, the website said they have closed food services. Also, carts are limited to one person.

Officials at the County had been exploring what authority they have to close businesses, according to Scott. They have received numerous complaints about various businesses, golf courses among them.

In the City of Fresno, some golfers have been hoping the City Attorney’s Office would let country clubs open their gates for members to walk or play the courses.

Adam Stirrup, a member of San Joaquin Country Club and a golfer himself, sent a letter to the mayor, city attorney and city manager in Fresno asking officials to allow golfers to play at country clubs while keeping social distancing guidelines in place. As of Thursday, he said he not heard anything back. The City of Fresno maintains a working list of essential and non-essential businesses updated twice a week.

The crux of the letter was “to allow members to be able to walk the courses — that they can go outside and get exercise and not stay cooped up in their homes as other counties have done throughout the state,” Stirrup said.

What country clubs are asking is not to reopen all member services, but to allow members to still walk the course and be able to play, said Jim Beecher, club president of San Joaquin Country Club. Members are still paying dues, he said, and maintenance is being done to keep the value of the course up — a caveat written into what is allowed during the shelter-in-place order.

“We feel there’s a way for our membership to be allowed to use the golf course that’s consistent with ‘sheltering-in-place,’” Beecher said.

Copper River Country Club’s General Manager Todd Hansen reached out to the other country clubs in order to develop health standards by which to operate, Tatham said in his email.

In Sacramento County, golf courses are still open for business. A call to Haggin Oaks Golf Complex was answered but said they were too busy and a voicemail was left unreturned.

The Sacramento Bee reported that four City of Sacramento courses and three county courses are open. “And there’s evidence that business is steady at some courses,” they reported.

Golf courses are considered to be shared public recreational facilities such as pools and rock climbing walls, which the City of Fresno also ordered closed, said Mark Standriff, director of communications and public affairs for the City. The goal of the order was to limit business to those companies and services “absolutely necessary for a community to function at a basic level,” Standriff said.

“These are the basic items a community needs to survive. When we look at things like golf courses, are they a service that is necessary to a community to survive?” Standriff said.

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