Golf courses across Manitoba will have to open without “birdie juice” this weekend.

Golf courses across Manitoba will have to open without "birdie juice" this weekend.

Provincial health guidelines for businesses with liquor service licences restrict sales of alcohol to patrons who have purchased a meal and are seated at tables. Golf carts don’t count as tables.

The rule makes sense for restaurants, where customers have less room to roam and nothing to do but sit at a table or hit the VLTs — which is allowed.

On a 100-plus acre property with groups already limited to four physically distanced golfers, the players and course owners alike will be left scratching their heads at how this particular rule is limiting the spread of COVID-19.

"The impact I think is going to be pretty severe for Manitoba, all golf courses affected," said Wheat City Golf Course head professional Dave Scinocca ahead of the club’s opening day Friday.

"… We hire servers that drive around the course or work at the shack on the 10th hole to serve snacks, food, and alcohol’s a part of that for sure. That drives a lot of business to the golf course in the summer.

"What people have been accustomed to over the years is certainly going to change come Friday."

Now profit margins are one thing. Alcohol is a money maker for any establishment that sells it. But a larger concern for many clubs as they open — Deer Ridge and Glen Lea did today and Shilo has been open on and off since March 19 — is "bag beers."

Any alcohol consumed at a licensed establishment must be purchased through that business.

If that can’t happen, people might bring their own and can get fined for doing so.

"There’s going to be thousands of people going to the golf course (today), Friday, thousands," said Scott Ramsay, Wheat City general manager.

"Many of those people have an expectation, and if that expectation’s not met, they’re going to bring their own booze, which creates liability issues, policing issues. There’s a reason for liquor control laws, and they need to be adapted to different facilities."

Ramsay said the Wheat City and Shilo beverage carts will be dry but still operate as usual, selling water, pop, sandwiches and snacks.

But the clubs aren’t in a position to fine or ticket anyone. Manitoba's Liquor, Gaming, & Cannabis Authority governs sales and consumption, and the restriction is part of the current public health order.

The province responded to the Sun’s request for comment with the excerpt of Order 7 of the Public Health Act issued March 25. It outlines orders for licensed premises with wording almost entirely directed at restaurant-style venues.

"Mitigating risk is considered when public health orders are being developed. Further, we cannot open all services and activities at once or we will be back in the same situation as we were in the fall," the response added. 

"Enforcement officials continue to work with businesses to provide guidance and the majority of interactions are educational in nature."

The hope across all local clubs is it’s an oversight and can be amended sooner, rather than later.

"Lumping us in with patios and indoor facilities, we couldn’t be more different," Ramsay said.

"We’re basically being prohibited to sell alcohol to our patrons unless they’re seated at a table. It just doesn’t make any sense."

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