The course was closed, and business had been halted. And still, the phone at The Meadows Golf Club continued to ring.

“During the whole month of April, I bet I got no fewer than three calls a day, asking if we were open and had tee times available,” course owner Randall Anderson said. “I was like ‘I don’t know what rock you live under, but man, we’re down. The whole state’s closed.’ ”

The sport got good news Tuesday, however, as Gov. Janet Mills’s plan for re-opening the state allowed courses to resume play Friday, provided they stick to social distancing parameters and guidelines that make the game more conducive to safety.

“I would say (we’re) relieved, and happy,” Natanis Golf Course manager Rob Browne said. “We’ve had nothing coming in, and even with restrictions we’re going at least be able to start the process of recouping a little bit here. As soon as (Mills) mentioned the golf courses were open, the phone rang off the hook.”

Ashley Rhoades, left, and Abby and Carly LaRochelle paint pickets on the deck at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro on Wednesday. The course is scheduled to open on Friday. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“If our state leaders feel as though we can do this safely, that’s obviously a step in the right direction,” Waterville Country Club general manager Nick Pelotte added, “not necessarily just for golf courses and for the industry we’re in, but for everyone in general.”

The announcement came as welcome news for players who saw their favorite form of recreation closed down for a month, and who were unsure when it would be back.

“I got a text from a buddy of mine (and) I said ‘I don’t care, rain or shine, we’re playing,’ ” Lakewood Golf Course member Heath Cowan said. “Three o’clock Friday, Lakewood, first tee. I don’t care how hard it’s raining, he and I are going to be out there.”

“You can only swing a club on your lawn so many times,” Natanis member Marsha Adams added. “I honestly was concerned, not just for myself but for a lot of people I know. There are a lot of people that need it. It’s very therapeutic.”

At the same time, players knew there was a reason for the shutdown. Eddie Scholz lives right next to Natanis, and felt the itch like everyone else to get out and play. But at 80 years old, Scholz knew the danger the coronavirus presents, and understood Mills’s decision to close non-essential businesses at the start of April.

“I can understand the concern because this is nothing to fool with, especially someone my age,” Scholz said. “When you’re 80 years old and you have a breathing problem, it’s very scary. But I think now’s the time to open up. I’m not too concerned. You’re in the wide-open spaces.”

Courses are making changes to become even safer. The Maine State Golf Association came out with a “Park, Play & Go Home” initiative, which tells golfers to book tee times, show up 10 minutes beforehand, practice social distancing on the course and leave immediately after finishing. Courses are also taking additional measures, including no flagsticks, no rakes in the bunkers, no ball washers, no clubhouse or restroom access, and tee times scheduled 10 to 15 minutes apart.

“It’s not going to be ‘business as usual.’ It’s going to be ‘business unusual,’ ” Augusta Country Club general manager Dave Soucy said. “It is going to certainly change the experience, but the world has changed. We can’t expect golf not to change, so it’s going to be different. There’s going to be an adjustment period.”

Players are prepared for a unique feel to the game.

“It’s different. It’s weird to take an approach shot into a green and not know where the hole is,” Adams said. “But hey, it adds to the challenge.”

Anderson at The Meadows said courses will err on the side of caution.

A groundskeeper mows a green at Natanis Golf Course in Vassalboro on Wednesday. The course is scheduled to open on Friday. Kennebec Journal photo by Andy Molloy

“We’ll probably do even more than they’re asking for,” he said. “We’re dealing with a situation that’s very important and serious, and the last thing we want to do is have a number of rogue courses to kind of jeopardize it for us all.”

Those restrictions, he said, are worth putting up with to be able to re-open.

“Golf is a very difficult business to break even at anyway,” Anderson said. “We had some absolutely stunningly gorgeous weeks and weekends that we lost for this, so opening May 1 is a huge development for us. Absolutely monstrous.”

That doesn’t mean all courses are in the clear. A destination course like Belgrade Lakes Golf Club often draws visitors from throughout New England and beyond. With the two-week quarantine order in place for people coming into the state, Belgrade general manager Kyle Evans expects to see his course take a hit.

“The whole tourism thing, I’m still concerned about that as well,” he said. “We get a lot of our business from other states. How that all comes out in the wash is yet to be seen, I guess.”

There’s a similar dynamic at Waterville, where Pelotte said not all members are full-time Maine residents.

“Typically, vacations or weekend getaways don’t last as long as 14 days,” he said. “It’ll be difficult to come up here, quarantine for 14 days, and then have any availability to play golf.”

Not all hurdles are virus-related. Evans and Pelotte said their courses are in excellent shape, while Mike Dugas, owner and manager of JW Parks Golf Course in Pittsfield, said the recent windstorms left a lot of downed limbs and trees to clean up first.

“The governor gave us clearance, but I’m not sure Mother Nature did,” he said.

Dugas said players should gauge their own caution and comfort before returning to the course.

“Just because I’m open doesn’t mean people have to come play,” he said. “The onus of responsibility lies with the individual.”

Evans said most players can’t get out soon enough.

“The course is in the best shape it’s ever been in at this time of year,” he said. “I think people are pent up. They can’t wait to get outside and do the things they love.”

Staff writer Travis Lazarczyk contributed to this story.

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