To tee off or not to tee off? How golf courses are being regulated during stay-at-home order

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AUSTIN (KXAN) — On a beautiful, spring day, golf courses in central Texas are usually packed. In spite of stay-at-home orders in place in Travis and Williamson counties, Thursday was no different.

“I’m just looking to get some fresh air during this whole quarantine thing,” golfer Alex said.

Alex came to tee off at the city-owned Morris Williams Golf Course alone, practicing social-distancing.

Over the past few days since the orders were instituted, KXAN has received dozens of tips from people saying golf courses and tennis clubs haven’t closed.

A spokesperson for City of Austin said the city courses are technically “closed.”

Seating areas and dining operations are closed, and the city has removed any shared water containers from the course. But people can still walk-on if they bring their own equipment.

The city is urging people to only come golf with members of their household or alone, and to practice social distancing on the course.

Another golfer, Tony Tirado, told KXAN he saw a few people breaking the rules, with least one large group standing too close.

“We thought about that before we came out, making sure we set the example,” Tirado said.

As far as private or member clubs, they are not considered “essential business” and shouldn’t be open, according to the city.

“The order permits individuals to engage in outdoor activity, such as walking, hiking, bicycling, or running, provided the individuals comply with Social Distancing Requirements,” the city spokesperson said. “The ability for Austinites to engage in outdoor activity does not grant a private golf club status as an essential business. The fact that the business is primarily operated outside also does not grant the private golf club status as an essential business.”

A sign up at Morris Williams Golf Course, outlining guidelines for walk-on play during the closure. (Avery Travis/ KXAN)

Originally, some Williamson county residents were told golfing was exempt from the stay-at-home order.

Then, on Thursday a county spokesperson said, “Last night, our COVID-19 Call Center & Email Response Team received clarification on golfing. It is NOT covered as an essential activity in the shelter-in-place order issued yesterday by Williamson County, and therefore not permitted at this time.”

Linda Nguyen lives across the street from a large golf club in the county. She said for the past two days she’s seen them operating as usual.

“To see that on the first day, with no regard to those rules or regulations, it was really disheartening, sad, and made me really scared,” Nguyen said.

She clarified that she’s not scared of getting COVID-19 herself, but more concerned about the blatant disregard for the rules in the community.

Thursday Williamson County told KXAN they were looking into reports of clubs not following the order.

On Friday, Williamson County changed their protocol again. Now, golfing is allowed under their stay-at-home order, but only if courses follow more than 30 specific guidelines.

Some of the requirements include increasing tee time intervals to spread players out on the course, removing all drinking water stations, limiting one person to a cart, and closing all pro-shops. Several of the requirements have to do with more frequent cleaning of facilities.

Their spokesperson and a City of Austin spokesperson both said they would not be going out and conducting drop-in inspections, however. They are relying on tips from the community.

  • If you’d like to report a violation in Austin, call 311. The city said a code inspector will come out and investigate.
  • If you’d like to report a violation in Williamson County, go online to http://www.wilcocrimetips.org or call the non-Emergency line at (512) 943-1300 option one (1) then option three (3).

Nguyen said she believes that if city and county leaders put these orders in place, it’s because this is serious.

“We have to be responsible. I think if people care about their care about their futures, their children’s, futures, our community our nation and our world,” Nguyen said. “We just have to stay at home, right now.”

A public water jug out at a Williamson County golf course (KXAN Photo)

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