Spring break is a big deal in Florida. But in 2020, as it coincided with the COVID-19 outbreak in the United States, the revelry led to some bad press for the Sunshine State. Vacationers packed bars and beaches while a growing number of U.S. residents curbed travel plans and limited non-essential journeys and contact at home.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis did not announce a statewide "stay-at-home" order until April 1 and it took effect on April 3. Prior to the order, several counties enforced bans on playing golf, including three South Florida counties: Miami-Dade, Broward and Palm Beach. Elsewhere, some golf course operators made their own decision to close.
These "stay-at-home" and "shelter-in-place" orders from state and local governments are uncharted territory for many officials, and the legal definition of each order has been open to interpretation or subject to clarification from various groups.
Shortly after the governor's order, the North Florida PGA confirmed with the governor's office that golf is in fact permitted under "essential businesses." That means golf courses, as long as they follow social distancing guidelines, can remain open. But as of April 3, how many courses are open greatly depends on the destination, and in the past few days, reported closures of golf courses nevertheless continue to inch up in the state. We checked in with GolfNow, which is tracking operations at their partner facilities around the world. In Florida, their 500-plus courses covers a big chunk of the publicly accessible golf in the state. We broke the current suspensions in tee times down by 8 Florida markets. (Editor's note: Our Golf Advisor course guide shows 1,100+ total Florida golf courses, about 500 of which are labeled as "private.")
Additional market data provided by the GolfNow Industry Report indicate that while most markets in Florida are either flat or lower year-over-year for revenue and round due to closures, uncertainty with rules and also a warm spell sending temps into the 90s, the Jacksonville area has been strong.
Notable Florida golf resorts that are not taking tee times at the moment include Innisbrook Resort, which generally only allows non-member play by resort guests, and the hotel is closed. Streamsong has only the Black Course open at the moment as they have decided to take the most of the current downturn in travel and re-grass the Blue and Red with a new Mach 1 bermudagrass.
Other resort courses are open and taking local play. But because tourist traffic has dropped, green fees appear to be much lower than normal at many higher-end facilities. Outside Orlando, Mission Inn Resort & Club in the remote Howey-in-the-Hills remains open with precautions in place. Marriott's Hawk's Landing remains open despite the closure of the Orlando World Center Resort. While Walt Disney World's theme parks and hotels are closed, their 63 holes of golf remain open. TPC Sawgrass is also currently accepting online tee times on the Stadium and Valley courses.
How does Florida's closure rate compare to other spring peak season states according to GolfNow's numbers? While 32.6% of public-access Florida golf courses are closed, only 15.3% are closed in Arizona. North Carolina is 10.6% closed and South Carolina 19.4%.
Wherever you tee it up in Florida, just expect and and adhere to modified, social-distancing operations.
"The crew at Winter Pines offers a very safe refuge!" wrote nkmhorton on an April 1st review. "The carts are sanitized and hand sanitizers are available. There [are] no gatherings permitted. They have removed the rakes for our safety and foam inserts for each hole so the balls don’t drop too far so players don’t have to remove the flags on each hole. Thank you all."
UPDATE: We have created golf course COVID-19 status updates for each state. Look up the status of any golf course to find out if they are currently open or closed, or report the latest status of a course you know. Find the Florida COVID-19 status page here.