Thursday was like Christmas came early for those anxious to get back on the golf course and on the water, as Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan peeled back restrictions on certain outdoor recreational activities.
“It was a little chaotic as we had no prior warning and of course, everybody had a bit of a plan in the hopes that this would happen, but as soon as [the governor] said the words, as much as we started to celebrate the phones actually started to ring,” said Carol McCarthy, General Manager of Mountain Branch Golf Course in Joppa. “It was a wonderful thing, but it was absolute chaos.”
Golf courses were one of a number of outdoor recreational places allowed to reopen. State parks, beaches and playgrounds were also re-opened and boating, fishing, camping and hunting were among outdoor activities that were allowed to resume at 7 a.m. Thursday with certain protocols in place.
“I am delirious, I can’t tell you,” golfer Barbara Wolfe said from Mountain Branch.
“I felt like I just had this hood over my head. As fortunate as I feel, compared to people in the city in the apartment, there was just that thing that was keeping me from feeling good. It’s spring, you know, the warm weather,” Wolfe added.
McCarthy said golf courses are following all protocols laid out in the governor’s Best Practices for Businesses to Reopen in Maryland’s Roadmap To Recovery.
Mike Corriggio, the pro shop manager at Bulle Rock Golf Course in Havre de Grace, said “everybody gets their own individual cart, obviously we are sanitizing the carts. No rakes out there, no divot repair/sand bottles, the cups or pin placements will have pool noodles on them.”
Bulle Rock is allowing just 10 people in the pro shop at one time, no pull carts at any time and after 5 p.m. play is walkers only.
“We are following the rules and doing everything we can until we hear otherwise,” Corriggio said.
Thursday was a busy day at the Geneva Farm Golf Course in Street.
“We are open for business, the range is open and we’ve set it up for social distancing,” said Bill Buzzell, operations manager at the course. “We’re set up on the protocols, nobody can touch a flag, have to wear a mask in the pro shop.”
Hogan’s 3 p.m. Wednesday announcement, though welcomed, left course managers little time to get ready.
“They were out here late in the evening last night cutting new holes in the greens and taking rakes off and getting everything prepared,” Buzzell said. “And then our tee sheet today is well over 130 or 140 golfers. It was funny, nobody was here this morning, everybody booked tee times starting at 9 o’clock and from 9 o’clock on, we’ve been pretty steady.”
Beth Boyson, manager at Wetlands Golf Course in Aberdeen, said management and staff were glad to be open, regardless of the short notice.
"All the guys are out here and all are happy to be outside doing their thing with their friends,” Boyson said. “They’re all social distancing and wearing their masks when they come inside. I wish it had been sooner, but we’re happy and we’re not going to look a gift horse in the mouth.”
The water was also a very popular spot on Thursday. Allan Stifler brought family members living at his house in Aberdeen to Mariner Point Park in Joppatowne early Thursday afternoon. He was among a steady stream of boaters visiting the park, excited Hogan had lifted the restrictions on recreational boating.
“Time to get out of the house before we go crazy,” Stifler said. “We might head out to Hart-Miller Island and make a day of it.”
With a fishing trip on the Pocomoke coming up in a few weeks, Bel Air resident Andy Williams said he wanted to run his boat for a bit to make sure it was in good shape. He’s also been ready to get out of the house and on the water, but said Thursday he “wanted to play by the rules.”
”I’ve been on furlough for about two-and-a-half weeks and was anxious to get out, but I wasn’t going to break the law to do it," Williams said before launching his boat at Mariner Point. “And I couldn’t honestly say I was catching fish for food, because I catch-and-release, so that wouldn’t be right.”
Tidewater Marina in Havre de Grace was also a very busy place on Thursday. General Manager Jeff Andrews said the governor’s announcement and 15 hours notice caught them by surprise.
“We were really surprised that he did it that quick, when he’s been saying all along that he had certain criteria that he was going to lift the stay at home order and ban on boating at the same time. That’s what we were counting on,” Andrews said.
But Andrews, along with owner Garrett Pensell and accountant Debbie Brandon, had been preparing to reopen, making sure they had cleaning supplies like gloves, masks and sanitizer when the time came.
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In the span of his12-minute drive to the marina from home after the announcement, Andrews said he received four emails from customers before the governor stopped talking.
“We shut down March 30, that was the first full week of the launch schedule and its full until the middle of May, so we’ve got six weeks that we’re playing catch up with right now,” Andrews said. “We have less than a full staff, we’re trying to get as many guys in, we’re starting with our schedule where we left off and trying to just accelerate things so we can get people in the water. We’re just trying to launch boats as fast as we can and sanitize everything in the world.”
Most Harford County parks have been open throughout the COVID-19 crisis, but county-owned playgrounds, fishing areas and other outdoor recreational facilities that had been closed were reopened Thursday,
“On this beautiful spring day we are reopening all county-owned outdoor recreation spaces permitted yesterday by Gov. Hogan,” County Executive Barry Glassman said in a prepared statement issued Thursday morning. “Please remember to maintain social distancing and follow all safety precautions as you continue to enjoy Harford County’s public parks!”
Aegis staffer Matt Button contributed to this article.