Play golf! Local courses ready and eager to hear those words

Courtesy PhotoTommy, 12, and Matt, 14, with their dad Kevin Murphy at Garrison Golf Center in Haverhill. The Murphy family also owns Bradford Country Club and they're hoping Governor Charlie Baker opens their courses real soon.

We have a message for Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker and New Hampshire Gov. Chris Sununu from our local public golf courses.

They are patiently waiting for these two words:

Play golf!

“We could be ready to open tomorrow,” said Hickory Hill co-owner Eric Brock. “We understand what Gov. Baker is doing and the seriousness of the situation. We’ll do what he says. We’re sure that if we are able to open they’d be a lot of provisions. We’re just sitting back and waiting.”

On Thursday, President Donald Trump and his Coronavirus Task Force outlined three phases, over time, in which governors could reopen their states to restart their economies.

Currently, golf courses in Massachusetts, New Hampshire, Vermont and Maine are closed. The sport is deemed a “nonessential” outdoor activity by the governors.

On March 23, Mass. Governor Charlie Baker issued an emergency order declaring all non-essential businesses – including golf courses – to be closed until April 7. It was extended to May 4.

One problem is that the governors of Connecticut and Rhode Island have allowed courses to be open, with some strict stipulations in regards to social distancing.

Kevin Murphy and his family, which has been in the golf business for six decades, have taken a double hit.

They own Garrison Par 3 golf center in Haverhill, which also has a bar on site, and Bradford Country Club, which is noted for its restaurant and function room.

“Like a lot of public courses, we are a family business,” said Murphy. “It’s been difficult. My brother lives in Connecticut and he’s playing. There are ways to open the courses. We can run it like an ice cream stand, with a walk-up window, just pass the credit card like you do at any store now, and go play.”

Murphy had no issues with the original order by the governor back in early March.

“I was all for shutting everything down for a while, to see how things turned out,” said Murphy. “We are getting to a point where May is going to roll around and honestly we’d love to get people back to work.”

Far Corner Golf Club, which is in Boxford near the North Andover and Bradford town lines, was open in early March of this year and closed when Gov. Baker made his stay-at-home orders on March 23.

“We’re just hoping we can open soon and abiding by the rules, waiting for their decision,” said long-time Far Corner head pro John O’Connor. “We’d be ready to go whenever we get the word. The weather has been pretty good this spring, much better than last year. We’d definitely be open if we were able to.”

Merrimack Valley Golf Club in Methuen had been adhering to self-imposed restrictions in mid-March when the course opened. Only one person was allowed per cart, unless they were family members. Masks and gloves were worn when paying in the pro shop, one at a time, said owner George Kattar.

“We understand that public health is the most important issue,” said Kattar. “But we can do this. Golf is an outdoor sport. We can have rules where nobody touches the flag. And everyone touches only their ball. The restaurant wouldn’t be open, but that’s OK for now.

“We just think it’s time to let people get out of their houses and relieve some stress,” said Kattar. “Golf can help do that.”

One unintended benefit through this virus and closed courses has been that conditions of our local courses.

According to the pros and owners, they have never been better.

“The good thing is people have been working on courses, as essential works, and from what I’m hearing they’re all in great shape,” said Murphy. “Honestly, as soon as we get the word, golfers are going to see their courses in great condition. I’m hoping they come back in full force.”

Atkinson Country Club’s Director of Golf, Pete Doherty, who has been the lone worker in the golf shop as several employees were furloughed in March, hopes the decision to open up courses, with obvious restrictions, would be the right decision.

And he hopes that Gov. Baker and Gov. Sununu, as well as the governors from Maine and Vermont, are all on the same page for the startup date.

“You would have way, way more potential contacting amongst people at grocery stores and places like Home Depot or Lowe’s,” said Doherty. “I also hope that the governors work together on this for our sport. If we were open and Massachusetts wasn’t, or the other way around, residents would go over state lines. We need to stay together. Getting some exercise, getting away from the house, and playing golf can help.”





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