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Staff photo by Tim Barber / Four golf carts, all from the same foursome, gather to watch a member's approach shot Friday at Black Creek. General manager Sean Rice said "we are only putting one person per cart for play today," and the golf club will stop play beginning Saturday.

The weather is warming and the greens are firming up, but many of the Chattanooga area's golf courses are temporarily shutting down in the wake of the coronavirus.

"Today is the last day for a while the way it sounds," said Kevin Ashley, head professional at Creeks Bend Golf Club, on Friday.

Plans are the same at Black Creek Club and Chattanooga Golf and Country Club as Friday was their last day for golf, though the restaurants will offer curbside pickup, officials said.

The club officials said they're complying with Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke's order on Thursday directing citizens to shelter in place, starting Satuurday. The aim is to curb the spread of the coronavirus, and the order is Berke's most sweeping directive yet for businesses and citizens.

Doug Stein, an owner at Black Creek, said while the course was deemed "essential" under prior orders, the club will "obviously follow the safety protocol."

In the past, the club already had taken safety steps such as providing no bunker rakes for players to handle and even inverting the cups on the greens so balls wouldn't go down the holes, he said.

Stein said course maintenance is permitted during the order.

The mayor's directive remains in effect for seven days, but may be renewed indefinitely, according to the city. The city said that Chattanoogans should expect the mandates to remain in place until at least the end of April.

Michael Murray, Chattanooga Golf and Country Club's general manager and CEO, said tennis and golf operations were to close Friday, though restaurant curbside pickup will remain for members.

Leading up to Friday, the course had a "decent" number of golfers on nice weather days, he said.

"We were doing everything we were supposed to do," Murray said, such as social distancing and keeping players in small groups.

But, he said, the club was looking at closing the course without the mayor's order.

"The problem is that it's hard to police them from gathering after play," Murray said. "We felt like we'd rather be safe than sorry. We want to do the right thing."

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Chattanooga area golf clubs closing

Stein said that communities nationally are looking differently at the issue of keeping courses open or closing them.

"It's a different question all across the country," he said.

In North Georgia, Rudy Lee, the assistant pro at Battlefield Golf Club in Fort Oglethorpe, said it's doing its best to stay open.

"We had a couple around us close," he said.

In terms of personnel, Stein said Black Creek has retained all salaried employees, and it has applied to the federal government's paycheck protection program. To incentivize employers to maintain payroll during the coronavirus crisis, the Small Business Administration is providing 100% federally-backed loans for certain payroll expenses through June 30.

Stein said the wait staff for the restaurant was hourly, and they're not getting hours because dine-in is closed. But, everyone on the maintenance staff remains and there are still hours for the kitchen employees, he said.

"We're retaining everybody, and we anticipate we'll be able to retain them," Stein added. Under the federal paycheck program, if workers were sent home, the money will be used to restore their pay, he said.

Murray said the club has laid off some staff temporarily. A lot of the night staff had been college students, and they already had left when classes were cancelled, he said.

"We're fortunate we're not in full season," Murray said. "We haven't hired seasonal staff."

Murray said he's hopeful the course will be back up and running in a few weeks.

Ashley at Creeks Bend said that club, too, had been in compliance to keep players safe. But, the food and beverage staff had elected to stay home about two weeks ago, he said. The outside staff were "hanging in there," but some were high school students and their parents wanted them to stay home as well, he said.

Contact Mike Pare at mpare@timesfreepress.com. Follow him on Twitter @MikePareTFP.

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