Pennsylvania officials on Friday ordered that golfing stop immediately on the state’s only two active courses.
Loch Nairn Golf Club in Avondale and Jack Frost National Golf Club in the Poconos were believed to be the only area courses open for play Friday of the 800 courses across Pennsylvania.
The courses had reopened on Thursday after obtaining waivers from the state that they said permitted them to do so. But state officials said Thursday that Loch Nairn and Jack Frost had merely been granted permission to maintain their grounds, not to reopen to the public.
To end the standoff, state spokesperson Dominique Lockett said flatly in an email Friday afternoon that golf clubs may only engage in maintenance.
“All other activity is prohibited,” said Lockett, of the Department of Community and Economic Development.
Lockett’s statement cut through confusion that had grown up after the clubs said they had successfully appealed Gov. Tom Wolf’s March 19 order shuttering all “non-life-sustaining” businesses. Some clubs whose appeals had been rejected wanted to know why, complaining that the waiver process appeared obtuse and arbitrary.
On Thursday, Lockett’s agency issued a brief statement saying waivers had only been granted to permit golf course maintenance. In its follow-up statement Friday, she was even more explicit.
“Numerous golf courses have applied for waivers, some for maintenance, but others applied to allow play with adjustments for social distancing practices during play,” Lockett said. “However, as the number of COVID-19 cases continues to rise, it’s more important than ever that only life-sustaining businesses and projects are approved. Therefore, to provide clarity, DCED will be sending letters to all public and private golf courses in Pennsylvania clarifying that courses may only conduct maintenance, and all other activity is prohibited under the governor’s order.”
A Loch Nairn employee noted, however, that its waiver application hadn’t mentioned maintenance, but focused solely on how those who might golf there could be protected from COVID-19.
The statement marked the second time in two days that the state had either clarified or rescinded a waiver. On Thursday, Wolf’s office reversed course and undid a waiver granted a Central Pennsylvania bath cabinet-supply company once owned by the governor. It did so after Spotlight PA and PA Post asked questions about the initial decision.
According to Lockett, DCED had been getting “a lot of inquiries” from golf courses in the last few days. This new order, she said, should take effect immediately and not be delayed until courses received the letters.
Loch Nairn and Jack Frost had instituted numerous restrictions and health safeguards before reopening. They both reported heavy play.
The Avondale course filled tee times from 8 a.m. through 2 p.m. on Thursday and Friday. Jack Frost, which reopened Friday, reported it was booked through 5:30 p.m.
A third club, Penn National Golf Club & Inn near Chambersburg, had also been granted a waiver but chose not to reopen after being advised against it by State Rep. Rob Kauffman, an area legislator.
Club owners had complained when they learned that some courses had been granted waivers and were open.
“I’m confused as a course owner,” Sandy Waltz of Turtle Creek Golf Course in Limerick said Thursday. “Why are certain courses allowed to open and others are not? We put in a waiver request too. And they denied it. They said we were nonessential. What the heck? The rest of the courses in this area are confused too."
Like all impacted Pennsylvania businesses, golf courses were permitted to challenge Wolf’s sweeping order. Last week, a coalition of 10 golf organizations in the state had petitioned him to reconsider.
When nothing came of that, some clubs appealed via a form on the DCED website.
According to a Harrisburg lawyer who is challenging Wolf’s order on behalf of a Western Pennsylvania golf course and other businesses, the appeals process remains a mystery.
“You file a waiver and state your case," lawyer Marc Scaringi said Thursday. "Then some person in DCED makes a decision. We don’t know who these people are. We don’t know what laws they’re using to make these decisions. It’s arbitrary and capricious.”
Scaringi, who filed an emergency action for extraordinary relief in the Pennsylvania Supreme Court, said Blueberry Hill Public Golf Course had not yet received a response to its appeal.
Pennsylvania’s course of action differed from what was happening in at least one neighboring state, Scaringi said.
“In Ohio, they have a stay-at-home order, but golf courses are open, providing they put in place certain protocol,” Scaringi added. “We can do that here.”