WILLIAMSTOWN, Mass. — The U.S. Golf Association's "Rules of Golf" runs more than 160 pages long.
On Thursday, Massachusetts golfers got a few more rules to follow, courtesy of the COVID-19 pandemic and the commonwealth's social distancing restrictions.
Local officials say the game's devotees will be ready to do whatever it takes to get back on the course.
"We're ready," said Eric Mabee, the head pro at the Country Club of Pittsfield.
"[Social distancing] is going to be up to the players. That's their civic duty to maintain that."
It will be impossible for the courses themselves to monitor whether players — currently limited to groups of four — are maintaining the state-mandated 6 feet from one another during their rounds.
But Waubeeka Golf Links owner Mike Deep echoed Mabee in his faith that the new restrictions won't be a problem for players in a sport famous for participants' practice of self-officiating.
"This has always been a game about integrity," Deep said. "It better be true from now on.
"They know the rules. Everyone knows the rules."
Among the new rules:
• All staff must wear face coverings while on the golf course property.
• No caddies allowed.
• No carts allowed.
• Push carts are allowed, but each player must carry his or her own bag; no sharing of clubs will be permitted.
• All golfers must maintain "proper social distancing of at least 6 feet at all times."
• Groups' tee times must be separated by at least 15 minutes, and golfers must wait in their cars in the parking lot until 15 minutes prior to their tee time.
• Online or remote payment of greens fees only.
• The practice green, driving range and chipping areas must remain closed.
Word of the Thursday opening in Massachusetts got out late Wednesday night, and even with all those changes in place, the phone was ringing off the hook on Thursday morning at Waubeeka, where head pro Erik Tiele attempted to keep up with demand and assign tee times.
"Obviously, we're very happy we got the golf course open, but we could have used some more time to get ready," said Erik Tiele, the head pro at Williamstown's Waubeeka Golf Links. "We had contingency plans in place, but it would have been nice to have a day of lead time."
Nevertheless, Tiele was pleased to be planning to send the first group off the first tee at noon on Thursday, and golfers throughout the state were happy to see the long-awaited return of an outdoor activity already allowed in most of the country, including neighboring New York and Connecticut.
Vermont also started playing golf again on Thursday after Gov. Phil Scott announced midday Wednesday that he would lift the state's restriction starting on May 7.
Representatives of the golfing industry had made a presentation to the state's reopening advisory panel over the weekend. Gov. Charlie Baker on Thursday said the decision was made in conjunction with what is happening in nearby states while keeping in mind where Massachusetts was in the pandemic's run.
"In this particular case, in regard to golf, we took a model that was being used in several of the states who surround us that we felt was consistent with what our concerns were in the first place and applied it," the governor said.
The point of working with the Northeast coalition — which he said he and the lieutenant governor did not see as a political move — was to look at the modeling other states were using for different industries for opening safely and what mechanisms were in place to ensure that safety.
"Part of this is making decisions that make the most sense for Massachusetts based on the facts on the ground in Massachusetts," Baker said. "We also want to make sure as we make decisions, we're not doing stuff that's wildly out of line with other states, as long as we can do it safely."
He anticipated there would be "a level of uniformity" as the Northeast begins to ease restrictions. "It's going to be hard to do these things in a vacuum," Baker said.
One of the most noticeable changes for golfers — and golf businesses — will be the continued closure of pro shops, restaurants and bars, a major revenue stream for the courses.
Tiele said he did not know how long the industry will be able to maintain without that part of the business model available.
"I can't give you an answer because with this decision coming down, is May 18 now going to be when everything else is going to be opening up?" Tiele said. "On May 18, will we have the clubhouse available? I don't know. Or will he turn around and say on Monday, for next weekend you can open your food and beverage.
"It's tough to say. Obviously, it's going to be an interesting golf season all around."
May 18 is the date the governor's recently extended executive order closing non-essential businesses is set to expire. Baker established the reopening advisory panel to develop a plan for a phased restart of the state's economy if and when the data on the virus' spread allows.
The Country Club of Pittsfield's Mabee expressed no concern about the loss of amenities like restaurants and pro shops.
"All facilities are closed," he said. "Essentially, it's a park for members only right now.
"A hundred years ago, there were no shops, no restaurants, no anything. It's sustainable forever. Golf lived that way for a long time without those other amenities. This is a blessing for us just to be open. We'll take it as it comes."