Governor loosens restrictions on outdoor recreation
VERMONT — “Everyone is just glad to be out and playing golf,” said Derrick Cram, business manager of the Ralph Myhre Golf Course in Middlebury on a sunny afternoon this week.
For many it was the first time out this season. And, of course, it was not because the winter lasted longer than usual, but because of social distancing restrictions imposed because of coronavirus.
Early this spring Gov. Phil Scott closed golf courses, parks and anywhere that Vermonters would gather for outside group activities. It was part of his “Stay Home, Stay Safe” order.
But last week Scott said that golf courses, state parks and other outdoor recreation spots could open up on May 7 with strict health and safety precautions. At the time Scott noted that modeling of the spread of coronavirus continues to show that the COVID-19 disease is being slowed in the Green Mountain State.
The Stay Home, Stay Safe order remains in effect, but outdoor sporting venues that are able to comply with outlined safety measures may open under looser restrictions, including:
• It is OK to have gatherings of 10 or fewer. Vermonters may now leave home for outdoor recreation and fitness activities with low or no direct physical contact and to resume limited social interactions and gatherings of 10 or fewer, preferably in outdoor settings that allow for greater physical distancing protocols.
• Inter-household socializing in limited numbers is OK. Members of one household may gather – and allow children to play – with members of another trusted family, provided health and safety precautions are followed as much as possible.
The governor’s order, Addendum 13, includes additional health and safety guidelines for these interactions, including following safety and hygiene protocols, limiting non-essential travel, and protecting those in at-risk categories, which should continue to stay home. It also directs the Commissioner of Health to provide additional recommendations.
Here’s what the new order said: “Effective May 7 all businesses and non-profit and government entities that support or offer outdoor recreation and outdoor fitness activities that require low or no direct physical contact may begin operations, subject to compliance with the health and safety guidelines and training requirements set out below, and applicable Agency of Commerce and Community Development (ACCD) guidance. These include, but are not limited to state and municipal parks, recreation associations, trail networks, golf courses, big game check stations and guided expeditions.
Campgrounds, marinas and beaches still remain closed.
Pickleball matches resumed at some venues last Thursday. Public basketball hoops saw some players.
Ralph Myhre Golf Course in Middlebury and Neshobe Golf Course in Brandon were among the courses that rushed to open. Then the snow on Saturday forced the courses to close for a day, but Ralph Myhre’s Cram said golfers were eager to get back on the links.
“Every tee time we have available is full,” Cram said.
Now that they are open, the golf courses are not operating the same as they have in the past. For instance, the Ralph Myhre clubhouse and locker rooms remain closed. Pencils, scorecards and ball markers will not be provided. Golf carts will be limited to one person, and everyone must bring their own clubs and handle their own golf bag.
There are no rakes in sand bunkers, and no one is allowed to touch the flags at each hole. “The cups will be raised, when a ball touches the cup, it is counted as in,” Ralph Myhre instructions say.
Other instructions include:
• Tee times must be made online or over the phone — not in person. They will be spaced 15 minutes apart. As such, there are a limited number of players that can get on to the course each day.
• Only people currently living in Vermont may play, and proof of residency may be asked for.
Before walking to the first tee, all golfers must check in and verify they have not had any of these symptoms: cough, sore throat, shortness of breath, new loss of smell or taste within the last 14 days, fever now or within the last 24 hours, a diagnosis of COVID-19 or has someone in your household been diagnosed with COVID-19
They will not be allowed to go to the 1st tee until this check has been made.
“Everyone is following rules to the letter, Cram said. “They all expected it.”
The driving range is closed. Cram said the rules were vague on under what circumstances it could open. He hoped for clarification on that soon.
He said a few golfers have fallen back into their old ways — arriving long before their tee time, instead of arriving no more than 10 minutes early.
“It’s a bit of a cultural change for some people,” Cram said.
Overall, he and the Ralph Myhre crew were looking forward to a good weekend.
“It’s supposed to be 70 degrees!” Cram said.