Is golf an essential activity during coronavirus?

More than half of US courses are closed

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Welcome to the socially distant version of the game that made Tiger Woods and Arnold Palmer household names.

It's not quite golf as you knew it, and it's not available everywhere, but in an increasing number of states, it's giving players a chance at fresh air, exercise and an escape from the four walls of their homes.

Courses in Wisconsin are the latest to reopen, as Gov. Tony Evers joins parts of the nation attempting to restart their economies from a coronavirus -induced shutdown. Clubhouses and pro shops will remain closed, however, scheduling restrictions have been imposed and tee-time payments can only be made by phone or online.

Illinois will follow suit shortly after, and Minnesota golf courses were approved to reopen on April 18.

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While there are a number of other states that managed to keep courses open all along, with precautions in place to lower the risk of COVID-19 transmission, others are still locking them down.

Mike Alberts wears a face mask as he follows through on a practice swing on the driving range at the Haggin Oaks Golf Complex in Sacramento, Calif., on Tuesday, April 21, 2020. (AP Photo/Rich Pedroncelli)

More than half of golf courses across the country are currently closed, the National Golf Foundation reported, though "the majority of golf facilities in the South remain open for play, with more than 70 percent of courses open to players in golf-rich states such as Georgia, South Carolina, and North Carolina."

The organization estimated 69 percent remain open in Florida, which encompasses more facilities than any other state.

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“The benefit that golf has is that it’s the perfect sport for social distancing. It’s relatively easy to keep your distance,” KemperSports CEO Steve Skinner told the foundation.

It’s not hard for golfers to keep their distance on the fairway, but greens and especially tee boxes can become more crowded — and golf is popular among age groups most vulnerable to the virus.

So medical professionals across the nation are wrestling daily with the question of how safe the game really is in the midst of a health crisis unprecedented in modern history.

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"The most important thing, to be honest, is that people respect whatever their county or state guideline at the time is for social distancing," Alexei Wagner, medical director within Stanford’s Department of Emergency Medicine, told Golfweek. "That changes over time."

What complicates the matter is so that many details about the virus, including its transmission and its longevity outside the body, are still unknown. As a result, medical recommendations on how to stay safe are changing almost daily.

For now, golf appears to comply with some of the most important advisories.

The game is unique in that players operate in a more open space using, theoretically, their own equipment, Jill Weatherhead, an assistant professor of infectious disease at Baylor College of Medicine in Houston, told the outlet. "And in those circumstances, it’s probably going to be safe, although because we don’t know much about this virus, our understanding is constantly evolving."

Meanwhile, the Golf Course Superintendents Association of America, an association for professionals who manage and maintain courses, isn't taking a position on whether courses should be open.

It is, however, "advocating to allow minimum maintenance to make sure the golf course is kept alive and to protect that valuable asset," a spokesperson told FOX Business.

The Associated Press contributed to this report.

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