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Is golfing a violation of Atlanta’s stay-at-home order, or an ‘essential’ springtime activity?

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During what would have been Masters week, most Atlanta links (but not all) have closed to fight coronavirus pandemic

A photo of golf superstar Tiger Woods teeing off beneath an ominous dark cloud.
Tiger Woods at East Lake Golf Club, which is closed due to the pandemic, in 2018.
Getty Images

The vast majority of sports encourage the clumping together of humans, fighting over balls, tackling opponents by their appendages, and, generally speaking, groping others.

Not golf.

As this Masters week typically reminds us, the sport thrives on casual meandering and a series of tactful swings, courteous nods, and hushed clapping—perhaps apt activities during a public health crisis like modern America has never seen.

That being the case, one of Atlanta’s premier golf destinations, Buckhead’s Bobby Jones Golf Course, has remained open while many of the city’s businesses shutter in an effort to curb the spread of COVID-19.

Most other courses within city limits have closed in response to the outbreak, and city officials believe golf doesn’t qualify as an “essential” activity outlined in Mayor Keisha Lance Bottoms’s recent stay-at-home order.

“To the best of our knowledge, [golf courses] are not listed as exempt from the order,” city spokesman Michael Smith wrote in an email to Curbed Atlanta.

Georgia Gov. Brian Kemp’s office, however, has a different take.

“In short... golf is allowed, [but] the clubhouses are closed,” said Kemp spokesman Cody Hall, referring to the state’s shelter-in-place order.

Candice Broce, the governor’s chief communications officer, added: “Golf courses are not closed by virtue of the [state] order, but management needs to ensure compliance with its provisions... For privately owned courses, if they can comply, they can keep operating. If they cannot comply, or if they don’t want to comply, they can close.”

In Bobby Jones Golf Course’s defense, operating protocols have shifted recently to accommodate the suggestions of public health officials.

The club is no longer allowing players to use golf carts on links, and tee times must be scheduled and paid for online in advance—both efforts to reduce the amount of person-to-person contact.

Noting that the club is “taking extreme measures to prevent the spread of the coronavirus,” general manager Brian Conley wrote in a post on its website that social distancing guidelines are being enforced.

Conley added that the governor’s order defines golf as “an essential activity,” and that the club should remain open as long as players abide by precautionary measures. (Conley has not responded to Curbed’s request for comment regarding what might prompt the course to shut down.)

The decision to stay open, in a way, brings to mind a dispute over jurisdiction from back when the course and club were being renovated.

Critics contended that the “tree massacre”—as SaportaReport put it—that took place during the $23 million overhaul violated the city’s tree code; but the update happened anyway because, as club officials asserted, the course is now state-owned land.