Golf courses consumed the majority of McKinney City Council members’ time in a special meeting today to extend the city’s coronavirus-prompted shelter-in-place ordinance.

After spending roughly 45 minutes debating the issue, council decided in a split vote to let golf courses stay open as “essential” businesses, subject to direction from the city on safety measures to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

Council then unanimously renewed the city ordinance shuttering local businesses deemed “non-essential.”

Community members had questioned why golf courses qualify as essential and whether they can operate within CDC safety guidelines.

Local businessman and conservative activist Derek Baker, who sued to block business-killing portions of McKinney’s stay-at-home order before council codified it as an ordinance, said his lawsuit was about applying the city’s current stance on golf courses evenly across the board.

“Let people do activities—including work—as long as they can do so while not harming themselves or others,” Baker said on Facebook. “No arbitrary essential and non-essential lists!”

City Manager Paul Grimes said the city’s municipal golf course is still open because it is a public park, and it has adopted safety procedures to protect golfers from COVID-19. Several private courses in the city are still open as well.

Mayor George Fuller and Council Members La’Shadion Shemwell and Scott Elliott voted to close all golf courses.

Fuller said it was hard to reconcile calling golf “essential” while forcing other businesses to shut down. “It pains me,” he said, but safety guidelines like 6-foot social distancing are obviously not being followed.

“We need to be fair and equitable across the board,” Shemwell said. “I think we should shut the golf course down and anything else that can’t meet the guidelines.”

“When I look at the list of things that we have included as essential businesses in our proclamation, to extend and delineate beyond Gov. Abbott, I would have to say ‘no’ to golf courses,” said Elliott, noting Frisco and Plano had already closed their courses.

But Mayor Pro Tem Rainey Rogers voted to keep golf courses open, as did Council Members Rick Franklin, Charlie Phillips, and Frederick Frazier.

“The less restrictions we can do that keep people safe, I’m all for that,” Rogers said. “I don’t think it’s anything that’s hurting anybody or [something] we need to specifically say people can’t do.”

Rogers said no one is following distancing rules at stores like Lowe’s and Home Depot, either.

“Everybody’s too close. Unless you want to shut them down, there’s very little social distancing you can even do walking in the aisles,” he said. “Give people some freedom.”

“Those businesses are on the governor’s list of essential businesses,” Shemwell responded. “Golf courses are not.”

“If it were up to me, I would close Lowe’s and Home Depot,” Fuller added.

“The issue is really enforcement of the guidelines,” said Franklin.

“We don’t have the ability to enforce the code,” Shemwell responded. He said McKinney’s six code enforcement officers shouldn’t be sent out to “tattletale” on golf courses.

Phillips said golf courses are being monitored by the public on social media and suggested the council should threaten to shut courses down if the city gets reports that they aren’t abiding by the rules.

Franklin said golf courses need “marshals” to police safety compliance.

Following their extended discussion of golf, council members voted to continue the city’s COVID-19 disaster ordinance through April 30, aligning with Texas Gov. Greg Abbott’s latest statewide executive order directing all Texans to minimize in-person contact except to provide or obtain essential services.

Fuller encouraged city residents with questions or concerns to call the McKinney Hotline at 972-547-9000.

Information on the coronavirus outbreak and McKinney’s response to the public health emergency is available on the city’s website.

Erin Anderson

Erin Anderson is a Senior Journalist for Texas Scorecard, reporting on state and local issues, events, and government actions that impact people in communities throughout Texas and the DFW Metroplex. A native Texan, Erin grew up in the Houston area and now lives in Collin County.