WEDNESDAY, April 8 — It can be rather easy to forget about a global health crisis during a stroll through the Country Club of Lansing, especially on a cloudless afternoon like today.
Earlier this afternoon, at least a dozen golfers were meandering across the course, practicing putts near the clubhouse and waiting as new friends and colleagues arrived. None wore a mask. And most weren’t keen to chat with this reporter about why they were golfing on a course forced closed by executive order during an ongoing statewide lockdown.
“It’d be no different than me carrying a stick and walking around,” one golfer told City Pulse. “It’s no different than when they close the place for winter and then people still come out here. What are they going to do? Police it? There’s no one here to police it. That’s how I look at it.”
Under Gov. Gretchen Whitmer’s “Stay Home, Stay Safe,” executive order, golf courses, deemed as “nonessential” businesses, have been ordered to close to the public across Michigan. The Country Club, like Groesbeck Golf Course, is technically closed. The clubhouse is locked. Tee times aren’t being scheduled. Carts are unavailable. You can’t grab a drink at the bar, use the fitness center or have dinner. But dozens of golfers don’t see a problem with playing on.
“You’re allowed to walk,” another golfer told City Pulse. “We’re just carrying these clubs with us. They say you can get outside. You’re not trespassing if you’re a member. I can walk here.”
Other golfers — some in groups — declined to speak to this reporter. Another told this reporter that he wasn’t allowed to speak to members of the Country Club on the property.
While outdoor activity and exercise are allowed, opening a golf course to the public does not fall under the designation of “critical infrastructure,” according to Whitmer’s order. And as a result, golf courses have been prohibited from authorizing their employees to report to work.
“I’m an essential worker. I have papers,” said Robin Buntin, assistant superintendent and one of three employees staffing the Country Club earlier this afternoon. “We have to mow the grass. You can’t let it go for two weeks. You have to mow the grass and keep it that height.”
“I have to be at work,” Buntin said. “I wish I could stay home. I’d love to work at home and get paid like everybody else, but they make me come in here seven days a week. It is what it is.”
Buntin recognized that golf courses in Michigan are technically supposed to be closed until at least April 13, but he said members just keep walking onto the green anyway.
“Until police come in here and shut them down, it doesn’t matter what you do,” Buntin added. “The public isn’t very bright when it comes to this. They might not care. They just want to play golf. … This is going to be like the plague where it wipes out millions of people.”
As for why Buntin isn’t telling golfers to leave? “I’m not the supervisor,” he said. Calls to CEO John Lindert were not returned this afternoon, though Buntin said that was to be expected.
A spokeswoman for Attorney General Dana Nessel said that it’s “up to local law enforcement to deal with” golfers that continue to play at courses that have been forced to close. A spokesman for the Lansing Police Department said it’ll investigate if it receives a complaint. It’s unclear if that complaint would actually need to come from the Country Club itself.
“That would be up to the golf course to shoo people off their golf course,” added Ingham County Sheriff Scott Wriggelsworth. “They would have to do that. I haven’t got any calls, but I would assume that golf courses themselves would need to watch out for that type of thing.”
The fence at Groesbeck Golf Course, Lansing’s municipal course, is locked. This reporter couldn’t get within 500 feet of the entrance before an employee came outside to offer a reminder about how the course is closed. Unlike the Country Club just a block away from Whitmer's residence, the course at Groesbeck was entirely empty this afternoon.
City officials said residents are not allowed at Groesbeck Golf Course until it reopens. The Lansing Entertainment and Public Facilities Authority also has an employee there doing maintenance “as needed,” a city spokeswoman said.
A provision in Whitmer’s order allows for a minimal number of workers at shuttered businesses to “maintain the value of inventory and equipment.” Some golf courses in Michigan have leaned on that exemption to continue maintenance on a limited basis, reports MLive.
State Rep. Graham Filler penned a letter to Whitmer last week urging her to reopen golf courses in Michigan as long as proper social distancing and health safety rules are followed. The Golf Association of Michigan also requested Whitmer carve out an exception for golfing.
“Aside from the obvious economic benefits, golf will also offer Michigan residents another form of outdoor recreation while we all try to stay safe and active,” Filler said in the letter.
Whitmer addressed the topic at a press briefing late last month after the order took effect:
“If you’re not a life sustaining entity, you should not be out and about and your employees should be at home,” said Whitmer. “If you’re a landscaper, if you’re a florist, if you are home construction, none of those are life sustaining businesses that should be open.”
Whitmer clarified that florists — perhaps like golf course maintenance personnel — are still able to go into their shuttered businesses to water their plants, but otherwise are “needlessly endangering” the public and risking their business licenses with continued operations.
Nessel also weighed in on the topic yesterday in a late-night post on her Twitter feed: “I just can’t hear about one more black health care worker, police officer or bus driver die while getting a barrage of complaints from white folks outraged because they can’t go golfing.”