U.S. golf industry leaders unveiled a three-stage plan to reopen courses with safety protocols in the wake of the coronavirus pandemic.

Almost all states permit or are set to allow golf courses to reopen with social distancing and other measures aimed at avoiding the spread of the deadly virus over more than 16,000 layouts. The “Back2Golf” program, supported by the PGA and LPGA Tours plus the US Golf Association and PGA of America, also has the backing of U.S. course owners and superintendents and club managers.

“While we recognise there’s no perfect solution and various areas of the country will progress in these phases at a different pace, it’s imperative that we reopen golf in a way that prioritises the health and well being of the entire golf community,” PGA of America chief executive Seth Waugh said.

The stages follow guidelines for the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), including social distancing and greater sanitisation protocols, and allow for differing stages in different areas as city and state regulations allow activity.

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Stage one allows for no more than 10 people in a single area, with players distancing from each other while walking or going solo in golf carts with those in vulnerable groups not participating. Stage two would allow for up to 50 people in an area but players still distancing from one another and still no golfing for those in vulnerable groups such as being over 60 or with existing health conditions.

A restricted course set-up remains in place, going without rakes or removing flagsticks, with limited clubhouse activities and restrictions on leagues and events.

‘The new normal’

Stage three, dubbed “the new normal,” would allow golf for vulnerable people provided they use social distance guidelines and other precautionary measures. Others should minimise time in crowded situations but all golf operations can resume with unrestricted staffing.

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Comprehensive sanitary procedures would remain in place with normal course maintainence and operations. “Operation playbook” guidelines will be updated as CDC guidelines change based upon the coronavirus pandemic. “The importance of social distancing and responsible behaviour during this pandemic has become a part of everyone’s daily life,” Waugh said.

“Reopening golf responsibly under strict social distancing practices is something we can all unify behind.”