Re: Whether golf courses may remain open during the COVID-19 disaster if local authorities require social distancing protocols and compliance with public health instructions.

Dear Chairman Frank:

You ask for guidance on the interpretation of the Governor's Executive Order GA-14 and its impact on certain essential services and activities in Texas. In particular, you ask whether "golf courses, which serve as a forum for essential activity such as exercise, may remain open if local authorities require social distancing protocols and public health instructions be followed."1 Some elements of golf course businesses may provide "essential services" under GA-14 and the federal CISA Guidance it adopts.2 For example, restaurants at golf courses provide an essential service and may continue to provide take-out or delivery options.3 Landscapers and other workers who are necessary to maintain the safety and sanitation of the business are likewise essential.4 Such services may continue to operate, and employees performing those services may go to work at the golf course. Yet even when providing an essential service, golf courses "should follow the Guidelines from the President and the CDC by practicing good hygiene, environmental cleanliness, and sanitation, implementing social distancing, and working from home if possible."5

However, other elements of golf course operations that do not involve services identified under GA-14 or the CISA guidance are not essential services. For example, golf course personnel, such as starters, marshals, and pro-shop staff,. who do not provide essential services, must follow GA-14's general rule: "minimize social gatherings and minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household."6 These personnel may work remotely from home if possible, performing functions like taking tee times, monitoring the course, or posting instructions or updates on a web site. Thus, ongoing non-essential services of golf courses should be conducted remotely.

With regard to individuals that desire to play golf, GA-14 expressly allows "engaging in physical activity."7 Golf is defined as a sport involving physical activity.8 While GA-14 expressly prohibits "visiting gyms," it permits activities like "jogging and bicycling, so long as the necessary precautions are maintained to reduce the transmission of COVID-19 and to minimize in-person contact with people who are not in the same household."9 Similarly, a person is not prohibited from playing or practicing golf on property that remains open to the person (such as by holding a membership and/or reserving a tee time), but the person should follow the CDC guidelines pursuant to GA-14.

Ryan Vassar
Deputy Attorney General for Legal Counsel

Read the full letter here.