Golf industry leaders unveil three-phase plan to safely reopen U.S. courses

Seth Waugh and golfer fist-bump on golf green

PGA of America CEO Seth Waugh (left) is among the industry leaders involved in the "Back2Golf" plan.

Getty Images

Recreational golf’s partial freeze amid the coronavirus pandemic continues to thaw at an increasing pace in the United States, and now the caretakers of the game are joining together to make golf’s return as smooth and safe as possible.

On Tuesday, American golf’s governing bodies, major pro tours, and industry leaders announced a three-stage plan to reopen golf courses in the country with uniform safety protocols.

Golfers around the country have returned to golf courses, as coronavirus restrictions have been lifted.
Some of golf’s new safety rules could actually make the game better
By: Michael Bamberger

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

Waugh’s PGA of America isn’t going it alone. Dubbed the “Back2Golf” initiative, the USGA, PGA Tour and the LPGA Tour are all involved in the plan, and it has the support of golf course owners and operators across the country.

Here are brief descriptions of the three phases of reopening:

PHASE 1: Individual Golf

Players will practice social distancing while walking or riding in a cart alone. Gatherings of more than 10 people will not be allowed, and especially vulnerable groups as defined by the U.S. Center for Disease Control (CDC) will be discouraged from playing.

In addition, other virus-related course setup rules will be in place, including removing bunker rakes from the course and restrictions against removing flagsticks.

PHASE 2: “Restricted Programming”

The second phase is similar to the first in terms of social distancing practices and the exclusion of vulnerable groups. However, “normal” groups of golfers may play together, and the number of people permitted to socialize in the same area increases to 50.

PHASE 3: “The New Normal”

In Phase 3, many social distancing restrictions will be lifted for most people, though they will be encouraged to minimize time spent in crowded places. Vulnerable groups will no longer be discouraged from playing, but at-risk individuals will have to follow stricter social distancing guidelines. Course set-up tweaks like keeping the flagstick in will also be removed, and all golf and clubhouse operations may resume as normal “including unrestricted staffing of worksites.”

Golfers putting.
10 ways to play golf safely as courses open up across U.S.
By: Dylan Dethier

Essential to the plan, which applies to all three stages, are new comprehensive cleaning procedures. All procedures will be updated as CDC guidelines change.

The “Back2Golf” initiative was fully reviewed and vetted by the CDC before being finalized, and it applies to more than 16,000 golf facilities “that adhere to nationally established protocols and best practices.”

“The Back2Golf Playbook and Guidelines that the PGA of America and golf’s allied organizations have put together are both comprehensive in nature and, most importantly, lay out a responsible way to get back on the golf course,” said Dr. Bradley Connor, clinical professor of medicine at the Weill Cornell Medical College and an attending physician at the New York Presbyterian Hospital-Cornell campus, in the release. “The guidelines emphasize social distancing and other preventative measures in alignment with the plan established by The White House and CDC. Golf is a terrific recreational outlet that offers a number of physical and mental health benefits.

“While we all must remain vigilant and continue to take precautions, this plan allows golf to be played in keeping with social distancing best practices,” Dr. Connor continued. “I applaud the golf industry for helping to be part of the solution to get us back outdoors in a healthy and responsible manner.”

It’s important to note that most U.S. golf courses have already reopened, and some never closed at all. According to the National Golf Foundation’s latest study, a full 79% of courses are open to play in 47 states. That’s a dramatic increase from the NGF’s estimates of 58% from just a week ago.

Golf Magazine

Subscribe To The Magazine

Kevin Cunningham

Kevin Cunningham Editor

As managing producer for, Cunningham edits, writes and publishes stories on, and manages the brand’s e-newsletters, which reach more than 1.4 million subscribers each month. A former two-time intern, he also helps keep humming outside the news-breaking stories and service content provided by our reporters and writers, and works with the tech team in the development of new products and innovative ways to deliver an engaging site to our audience.