• 91°

Judge Branick reverses golf course shutdown; stipulations added in latest addendum

Jefferson County Judge Jeff Branick’s order to shut down golf centers, driving ranges and golf training centers lasted 22 hours, 21 minutes.

At 2:36 p.m. Wednesday, Branick issued an addendum to his “Stay at Home, Work Safe” order allowing such facilities to operate, as long as:

  • separate carts are used by each golfer;
  • golfers maintain appropriate social distancing at all times;
  • golf carts provided by the course are sanitized before use, and;
  • no more than five persons may occupy the clubhouse or course rooms at any time.

Branick signed an addendum immediately shutting down golf facilities at 4:15 p.m. Tuesday.

“I was on a two-hour conference call with the governor, and he said to shut down the golf courses,” Branick said Wednesday morning. “He just said by his orders, they weren’t allowed.”

Recent editions of Gov. Greg Abbott’s emergency order do not specify golf facilities, but Branick at the time said Abbott referred to a March 28 advisory on identification of essential critical infrastructure workers during the COVID-19 response from the U.S. Department of Homeland Security. Neither golf nor recreation is listed among the 16 essential industries.

What does it mean for golf in Port Arthur?

Whether Branick’s reversal will impact Port Arthur Mayor Thurman Bartie’s edict from Wednesday to close golf facilities is not immediately known.

Aquila Golf CEO George Brown, who operates the Babe Zaharias Municipal Golf Course in Port Arthur, expressed disappointment over the addition to the county order Wednesday morning.

“You know, when you look at it, Judge Branick is privy to more information than I am, so I don’t want to take away from his decision,” Brown said.

Brown referred to the ratio of confirmed coronavirus cases in Jefferson County to the population. As of Wednesday, 92 cases were confirmed in a county of 251,565 (according to 2019 estimates), which would mean 0.036% of the population has been infected.

“I’m surprised at the decision, but of course we abide by it,” Brown said. “We’ll get through it. I just hope it’s short lived.”

Short lived, it was.

The county addendum forced the Babe to close its golf shop as well as the course. Brown said he has applied for Small Business Administration loans to keep his workers employed.

“The maintenance crew is working, but it will have to be on reduced hours,” Brown said. Maintenance is addressing leaks in the irrigation system, and mowing will take place every other day, Brown added.

Golfers have abided by the course’s strict social distancing policy, Brown reported, but it took some heavy insistence at first.

“In the very beginning, we gave them two choices, either you can disperse these groups or they’re going to close this down,” Brown said. “It took two or three reminders to let them know, you have to stay apart and not congregate in groups of 10. We told them in no uncertain terms they have to follow the policy, and they did.”

Judge understands

Branick did note a potential benefit to being able to play golf while observing the standard 6-foot social distance rule and not taking part in gatherings of 10 or more persons.

“If you look back at the Spanish Flu of 1918, they had to put people outside in fresh air and sunshine,” Branick said. “The people outside had lower mortality rates and recovered more quickly. I know at these golf courses, everyone had to ride in their own carts. They removed the flags. They turned the cups upside down so people weren’t reaching into the cup and potentially leaving germs where others would reach their hands in.”

Asked if he plays golf, Branick said: “I would start if it would make this disease stop.”

Judge: Mortuaries requested ease of cremation permit policy

A fourth addendum, which went into effect Saturday, suspends local cremation permits of those suspected or confirmed to have died from coronavirus.

The act allows funeral homes to cremate such individuals without risking exposure to the virus, Branick explained.

“That came from the funeral homes’ request,” Branick said. “What happens is that if they cremate an individual, they have to pull a permit. It takes 48 hours. If they have a COVID body for 48 hours with people going in and out, that allows them, if the family wishes, to cremate the individual immediately and not leave potential exposure to people who might be exposed.”

Jefferson County has recorded five deaths due to coronavirus as of Tuesday, including one from Port Arthur, a man between the age of 45 and 50. He had underlying health issues, authorities said.

(Editor’s note: This story has been updated from an earlier version headlined “Judge Branick explains decision to close golf courses; PA course operator weighs in)

About I.C. Murrell

I.C. Murrell was promoted to editor of The News, effective Oct. 14, 2019. He previously served as sports editor since August 2015 and has won or shared eight first-place awards from state newspaper associations and corporations. He was born in Memphis, Tennessee, grew up mostly in Pine Bluff, Arkansas, and graduated from the University of Arkansas at Monticello.

email author More by I.C.