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California

Los Angeles is shut down, but golfers can still tee off at the city’s courses

Golfers play a round at the Wilson & Harding Golf Course in Griffith Park on Thursday.
Golfers play a round at the Wilson & Harding Golf Course in Griffith Park on Thursday.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

The morning sun warmed the ground as golfers teed up Friday morning at Rancho Park Golf Course in Cheviot Hills. Golf carts zipped along the grass and balls soared out of the driving range stalls.

Beverlywood resident Ron Losch was getting ready to play 18 holes at Rancho Park, just as he does every week. He knew that Gov. Gavin Newsom had ordered Californians to stay home the night before.

“If we can take hikes, if we can go on walks, we can play golf,” Losch said. “They should leave it open. Otherwise, people will go insane.”

Daily routines were altered throughout much of Los Angeles on Friday, but golfers were still driving, putting and chipping at the city’s public courses — a sign of normalcy at a time upended in dizzying ways by the pandemic.

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The city’s network of 12 golf courses — which extend from the San Fernando Valley to the harbor area — remain open for the time being, Department of Recreation and Parks spokeswoman Ashley Rodriguez said Friday morning. The city’s tennis courts remain open too.

The decision has delighted some golfers, but drew criticism from Los Angeles City Councilman Mike Bonin. Keeping the courses open was just creating more of an opportunity for people to congregate, he said.

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Benjamin Silva, left, and Andre Leonard practice on the driving range at the Wilson and Harding golf courses in Griffith Park on March 19, 2020. Golfing lends itself to social distancing and is giving players a chance to get outside.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

“I don’t think the courses should be open,” said Bonin, who represents several Westside neighborhoods. “I’m not getting what the essential purpose is of keeping them open.”

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All week, golfers have shown up at courses, in their golf shoes and hats. They can get in a round before work — or during working hours because their work has slowed down dramatically or because there is no work.

“The world has changed,” said Peter Cosgrove, sipping coffee and sitting on a bench as he got ready to play Thursday morning at Rancho Park. The Brentwood resident said he hadn’t left his house in three days because of worries about the coronavirus.

Sports are on hold for many as fear has gripped the region, with gyms, tennis courts and cycling studios closing their doors as part of an effort to stop the spread of the virus. However, public health officials have encouraged residents to take a walk or a hike or go for a bike ride, as long as they also practice social distancing.

Many of the city’s private clubs with golf courses are closed. And tournaments have been canceled at the city’s courses.

At Rancho Park, workers put a long metal bag rack near the check-in window to create a barrier to ensure social distancing. Workers wearing plastic gloves could also be seen regularly wiping down commonly touched surfaces.

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Signs at the counter at the Rancho Park Golf Course alert players to precautions taken to prevent the spread of the coronavirus.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

“Golf courses are implementing a variety of procedures to promote social distancing and keep common areas sanitized,” Rodriguez said in an email. “Stanchions at each location are set to create a six foot barrier around the golf starter areas in order to minimize close contact between our employees and the public. Food and beverages at restaurants and cafes at golf courses are now takeout only.”

In addition, Rodriguez said they were encouraging visitors to pay using debit or credit cards instead of cash. Golfers are also allowed to ride alone in carts without a penalty and the carts are cleaned after they come in, she said. “Staff are hosing them down, disinfecting and drying them off before their next use,” Rodriguez said.

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Golfers visiting L.A.'s courses told The Times that they felt safe playing because it’s a sport that allows for social distancing. And hitting balls at the driving range is a solitary experience.

“It’s definitely a stress relief,” said Adam Bluestone, a Santa Monica resident who was playing at Rancho Park on Thursday. “If there’s any game you could be playing right now, it’s golf.”

Kiman Song, teeing up at Griffith Park’s Wilson Golf Course on Thursday, said he normally waits a half an hour to an hour to play. But he just walked on.

“A lot of people are afraid” of going out, he said.

Leaving the course Thursday, West L.A. resident Helmut Elmann said he likes the fresh air that comes with being outdoors, compared to the stuffiness of his home. He and his friends who play golf don’t walk or stand too close together. And he said, “I don’t think you get the virus from the ground.”

Away from the relentless stream of news on the coronavirus, Rancho Park was quiet Friday morning. Still, it was hard to square the feeling of normalcy at the course with orders from Newsom and L.A. Mayor Eric Garcetti just hours earlier to shut down most businesses and telling residents to remain at home.

Garcetti is adding thousands of emergency beds for homeless people at Department of Recreation and Parks sites to protect them from the spread of the virus. Cheviot Hills Recreation Center, not far from the neighborhood golf course, is one of the sites slated to get the beds.

“It is definitely a strange juxtaposition,” said Bonin of the use of city parks for both golf and homeless housing.

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Kam Song plays a round by himself at the Wilson and Harding golf courses in Griffith Park.
(Dania Maxwell/Los Angeles Times)

Losch predicted a shutdown was likely at Rancho Park golf course. “They’ll probably close it out of an abundance of caution,” he said.

Earlier this week, Newsom recommended that people 65 and older stay at home to protect their health, as they are most at risk for dying from COVID-19. But golf is an activity that attracts retirees and, on Thursday, some golfers said they felt safe.

At the Griffith Park course on Thursday, Burbank resident Richard Carr, 73, showed off his new M2 driver. He said he wasn’t getting close to anyone on the course. Besides, at home, “you get stir crazy,” Carr said.

At Woodley Lakes Golf Course in Van Nuys, golfers were calling Friday morning to see if they could still play. “The phone just doesn’t stop ringing,” said a staffer.

Times staff writer Emily Alpert Reyes contributed to this report.


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