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By Zach Cavanagh

Amid pushbacks and protests against stay-at-home orders across the country, Orange County opened a small door to normalcy and outside activity during the coronavirus pandemic.

The OC Board of Supervisors voted unanimously on Tuesday, April 21 to allow county golf courses to reopen in a limited capacity by following “industry best practices for implementation” of social distancing and other safety guidelines “to provide the opportunity to recreate on the course.”

Some courses around South Orange County seized that opportunity immediately, with San Juan Hills Golf Club in San Juan Capistrano reopening to club members only on Wednesday, April 22; Monarch Beach Golf Links in Dana Point reopening to the public on Thursday, April 23; and Bella Collina San Clemente, a private club, reopening to its members only on Friday, April 24.

 “Our plan is to follow those recommendations to the best of our understanding,” Bella Collina general manager Jay Pesicka said. “As of tomorrow (Friday), we’re allowing walkers only, members only. We want to do what’s for everyone’s safety first.”

Shorecliffs Golf Course, a public course in San Clemente, will reopen its driving range on Saturday, April 25, and its back nine holes on May 1. Shorecliffs’ front nine is currently under renovation.

As of press time on Thursday, April 23, the officials for the San Clemente Municipal Golf Course and the city of San Clemente were scheduled to meet on Thursday to discuss reopening. In San Clemente’s City Council meeting on Tuesday night, outgoing Mayor Dan Bane had said the city would treat reopening the golf course as they have with the city’s beaches “as soon as able to do so safely.”

Also as of press time, website and Facebook page for Talega Golf Club in San Clemente, a public course, and Marbella Country Club in San Juan Capistrano, a private club, said the courses remained closed until further notice. Request for comment by the San Clemente Times had not yet been returned.

Shorecliffs Golf Course was the last golf course in the South County area to close on April 1. Golf Courses were allowed to reopen with county safety guidelines this week.
Photo: Zach Cavanagh

In a copy of the county guidance to the courses obtained by the San Clemente Times, the OC Board of Supervisors identified a list of health and safety standards to protect golfers.

These standards include that courses “should” be walking only with social distancing enforced by course marshals. During the Supervisors meeting, there was some discussion over that word “should,” to allow leeway for courses that deemed motorized golf carts as necessary to get around the course. If motorized carts were allowed, the Supervisors expected the carts to be cleaned and sanitized after each use.

San Juan Hills and Bella Collina each said their courses would be walking-only. Monarch Beach will provide individual carts for golfers.

The guidance also called for the elimination of all “touch points” on the course, including removing flagsticks and bunker rakes and closing self-service areas such as restrooms, where social distancing cannot be enforced. The guidance also asked for the cups to be inverted on the greens, and ball washers to be covered.

Groups should also be limited to four or fewer players, and tee times should be staggered. Guidelines for tee time staggering—the length of time between groups—were not given explicit limits by the county, allowing individual courses to do what suits their layout best.

Clubhouses, pro shops, snack bars, sit-down restaurants and other amenities are still to remain closed at the golf courses, to minimize face-to-face contact between golfers and course employees.

“This is not reopening golf courses,” Fifth District Supervisor Lisa Bartlett said in Tuesday’s county meeting. “This is basically allowing the golf course owners and managers to put in place a certain policy to allow the golfers to recreate. We’re not open for business, for golf course or any other nonessential business. It’s strictly allowing individuals to recreate on their course. It’s not open for business, come one, come all.”

Bartlett, whose district includes Dana Point, San Juan Capistrano and San Clemente, introduced the guidance directive to the OC Board of Supervisors at Tuesday’s meeting. While there was some pushback from other Supervisors to approving the guidance on Tuesday, Bartlett was adamant about putting out the guidance as soon as possible.

“Time is of the essence,” Bartlett said in Tuesday’s meeting. “We have people that are getting totally stir-crazy at home.”

Her latest stance was a bit of a turnaround for Bartlett, who had advocated for closing of golf courses in an earlier Board of Supervisors meeting on March 31. While other courses had closed at the time, Shorecliffs had remained open, and Bartlett voiced her concerns then about keeping clubs open.

“I understand people want to get exercise; they’re getting stir-crazy,” Bartlett had said in the March 31 meeting. “We have a public health crisis we’ve got to lock down. Golf courses are not part of the essential worker, essential business list pursuant to the governor’s executive order. We need cooperation out there.”

The San Clemente Municipal Golf Course has been closed since March 16. Monarch Beach, San Juan Hills and Marbella closed their courses on March 20, the same day Gov. Gavin Newsom issued California’s stay-at-home order. Talega and Bella Collina closed on March 22. Shorecliffs closed on April 1.

Elsewhere in South Orange County, three Mission Viejo courses announced plans to reopen following the county’s guidance. Arroyo Trabuco Golf Club and Mission Viejo County Club, a private club, were set to open on Friday, April 24. City-owned Casta del Sol Golf Course was scheduled to reopen on May 1.

Zach Cavanagh

Zach Cavanagh is the sports editor for Picket Fence Media. Zach is a California Journalism Award winner and has covered sports in Orange County since 2013. Follow him on Twitter and Instagram @ZachCav and follow our sports coverage on Twitter @SouthOCSports. Email at zcavanagh@picketfencemedia.com.

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