HEISER: With fishing precedent set, Pa. golfers can now legitimately ask: 'What about us?'

York's Melissa Shortino putts at Heritage Hills Golf Resort on Wednesday, March 18. Less than a week later, the state's courses were shut down. John A. Pavoncello photo
  • The statewide Pennsylvania trout season was unexpectedly opened on Tuesday.
  • Pennsylvania golf courses, however, remain closed for business.
  • Many of the state's golfers and course owners have asked that courses be opened.

Many avid golfers across Pennsylvania probably had just one question on their minds on Tuesday morning.

“What about us?”

You can hardly blame them. It seems like a perfectly legitimate question after the state’s unexpected decision to immediately start the statewide trout season at 8 a.m. Tuesday. The state opted to begin its trout season a full 11 days before the scheduled April 18 opening date. The state also decided to start the trout season during what many believe to be the apex of the coronavirus pandemic.

In unexpected announcement, Pennsylvania trout season is open effective immediately

The state had its reasons, of course. By making the surprise announcement, the state hoped to avoid the big crowds that are typical of the opening day of trout season. That makes sense.

In the news release announcing the move, the state also offered up another reason.

“Outdoor recreational activities, including fishing, lift our spirits and help relieve stress,” said Cindy Adams, the secretary for the Department of Conservation and Natural Resources.

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That comment had to raise the eyebrows (and the ire) of golfers across the state. Adams’ statement would seem to apply just as much to golf.

Golf community reacts: Still, the state’s golf courses remain shuttered, just as they have been since 8 a.m. Monday, March 23, when Gov. Tom Wolf's order to close the state's non-life-sustaining businesses went into effect. Since then, the state’s golf addicts have been unable get their weekly fix.

Almost immediately, the state golfing community pleaded its collective case to get exempted from the governor’s mandate.

A broad coalition of golfing organizations from across Pennsylvania petitioned Gov. Wolf to allow their courses to reopen.

Golf groups ask Gov. Tom Wolf to reopen Pennsylvania courses shuttered because of pandemic

Individual courses, backed by some supportive state legislators, asked for waivers.

A petition was started, titled “Let Pennsylvania Golf,” on Change.org. As of 3 p.m. Tuesday, it had more than 20,000 online backers.

Pleas fall on deaf ears: All of those pleas have fallen on deaf ears, despite the fact that several bordering states — New York, Ohio, Delaware and West Virginia — are still permitting golf to be played. The fact that New York permitted the sport to continue had to be particularly galling for Pennsylvania golfers. New York, after all, is among the states hit hardest by the coronavirus pandemic.

That has led to a parade of Pennsylvania golfers crossing state lines to tee it up.

Pennsylvania golfer travels out of state, gets first hole-in-one under 'weird' conditions

Now, with the decision to immediately allow trout fishing, the cries from Pennsylvania golfers are only certain to get louder. A new precedent, seemingly, has been set.

Physical distancing can be done in golf: There’s little doubt that golfers could abide by nearly every one of the physical distancing guidelines recommended by the state for the trout fishermen.

Golfers can easily stay at least six feet from each other during a round. Courses can be asked to allow only one golfer per cart. Cups can be raised an inch or two above the ground, and once your ball hits the raised cup it is considered holed out. That means golfers won’t have to touch the pin or the cup. Rakes can be removed from the traps, again removing a touch point. Tee times can be spaced further apart. Fees can be collected over the phone by credit card, with no personal contact needed. The snack bars can be limited to take-out orders. Players can be asked to arrive and depart individually, not in car pools. And carts can be completely and thoroughly disinfected by course workers before and after each usage.

The differences between golf and fishing: All of that begs the question: How is golf different than trout fishing?

Well, there are a couple of differences.

The state can argue that trout fishing can help to feed families, while golf does not. You can also argue, however, that the laid-off employees at the golf courses could certainly use their missing wages to feed their families.

Also, trout fishing, technically, may not be considered a “business” by some. There’s no fee collected at the site when you put your line in the water. There most definitely is a fee collected on site when you put your tee in the ground. The state’s rivers and streams belong to us all, while the state’s courses belong to private owners.

York's Alex Matarrita tees off at Heritage Hills Golf Resort on Wednesday, March 18. A few days later, Pennsylvania's golf courses were shut down. John A. Pavoncello photo

Still there is a fee to fish, it just goes to the state in the form of a license, instead of to private owners. And the bait-and-tackle shops and sporting goods stores that supply our state’s fishermen with poles, reels and lures certainly are businesses in every sense of the word.

The fact that the state licenses fishing might lead some golfers to wonder if that isn’t the real reason that fishing is being allowed. The state may not want to lose that sizable income.

Golfers now have easier argument to make: Before the state made its surprising decision to move up the opening day of trout season, Pennsylvania golfers had a much harder argument to make when asking that golf courses be reopened. Golf is not life-sustaining.

Now, however, a different precedent has been set. Now that fishermen have been given the right to enjoy their favorite outdoor activity, the state’s golfers can legitimately ask: “What about us?”

Steve Heiser is sports editor of The York Dispatch. He can be reached at sheiser@yorkdispatch.com.