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Are Colorado golf courses essential? Debate grows over whether they should stay open or close

Denver7 goes 360 on the issues surrounding golf courses in Colorado
Are Colorado golf courses essential? debate grows over should they stay open or close?
Posted at 9:55 PM, Apr 01, 2020
and last updated 2020-04-02 17:58:06-04

Editor's Note: Denver7 360 stories explore multiple sides of the topics that matter most to Coloradans, bringing in different perspectives so you can make up your own mind about the issues. To comment on this or other 360 stories, email us at 360@TheDenverChannel.com . See more 360 stories here.

DENVER – Elected leaders in Colorado are scrambling to understand the regulations for golf courses during the state stay-at-home order.

Late last week, the Tri-County Health Department cleared the way for golf courses in Douglas, Arapahoe and Adams counties to remain open as long as they adhered to serious social distancing restrictions.

For many courses, that meant an end to playing golf and opened the door to walking-only regulations. In addition to that change, courses have removed rakes from sand traps, removed drinking water stations and inverted golf hole cups to eliminate touch points and increase public safety and reduce risk.

Our 360 look at the topic includes perspectives from golfers out on the course, a county commissioner and decision maker in Douglas county, a spokesperson from Adams county who talks about the changes, and emails from angry residents asking for all courses in Colorado to close.

Insight from golfers

“I think just being cooped up, it makes sense for a sanity to get out here and do what we love to do,” said Tyler Martin before his round of golf at the DU Highlands Ranch Golf Club.
Other golfers offered additional perspectives.

“I think as long as we use caution and stay six feet away and try not to touch things and spread germs, I think we can do it safely,” added golfer John Heller.

“I rode my bike through Wash Park yesterday,” said DU Highlands Ranch Golf Club member Karl Benson. “The place was packed. You look out here, this is a lot safer than Wash Park.”

As we explore this topic, it’s important to understand decisions are changing by the hour with elected leaders working to balance health care concerns with the public’s need for recreation.

Denver7 has confirmed cities and counties throughout the state continue to grapple with the decision and the regulations connected with allowing golf courses to stay open.

Officials create modified golfing experience

“I got involved,” said Douglas County Commissioner Lora Thomas.

Thomas worked with golf courses in Douglas County to find a solution that would allow them to open and minimize any health risks.

“I called Dr. Douglas at Tri County health,” she told Denver7, “and I said, ‘Please help our citizens keep these golf courses open because it benefits everybody. We can make this work.”

Commissioner Thomas acknowledged not everyone supports her move to help keep the DU Highlands Ranch Golf Club open but added the opportunity for a positive option outside the home has its value.

“I know just from personal interactions from family and friends that too much closeness when you are not used to it takes a toll on everybody,” she said.

Residents concerned about their safety speak out

Commissioner Thomas and other elected and appointed decision makers acknowledge they have heard from some residents upset and concerned about golf courses remaining open and attracting hundreds of people to neighborhoods.

An email obtained by Denver7 and sent to commissioner Thomas included, “PLEASE ACT NOW TO SAVE LIVES… YOU MUST,” the email read, continuing, “”THEY” referring to the golf courses, “MUST BE CLOSED FOR THE GREATER GOOD.”

In Adams County, the county manager also decided to find ways to open their golf courses, including Riverdale Golf Course, after consulting with the Tri-County Health Department.

“Our parks department worked with our golf course superintendent to try and create a modified way to play golf where nobody touches anything,” said Jim Siedlecki, a spokesperson for Adams County.

Adams County decision makers struggled with the same issues.

Like the DU Highlands Ranch Golf Club, Adams County courses discontinued the option for golfers to ride golf carts. Now, all golfers are required to walk the course or use their own push carts.

Both courses have also removed multiple touch points to increase public safety and reduce risk. The changes include removing pins at the DU Highlands Ranch Golf Club or creating a non-removable PIN in Adams County.

Both clubs have also removed rakes in the sand, traps, and inverted the cups so players are not required to reach into the cup after holing a putt.

“When you walk around a lake or a community park,” added Siedlecki, “you are likely going to have to share a six- or eight-foot sidewalk with dozens, if not hundreds of people. In this case, you will see the same three faces for four hours and there’s just a tip of the hat at 18 (holes) — no handshake and everybody goes to their car and drives home.”