CALGARY -- An online petition calling for the Alberta government to consider golf courses an essential service has surpassed 16,000 signatures, but the province’s top doctor says restrictions won’t be eased until it’s safe to do so.

“As you know, golf has been determined as a nonessential service at this time,” said Dr. Deena Hinshaw Monday.

“We’re not yet at that point where we can start easing off.”

Some golf groups are asking for an exemption to allow courses to open when the weather permits.

“First and foremost, we know there’s things that are far more important than golf right now,” said Barry Ehlert with the Windmill Golf Group, which operates several courses in the Calgary area.

“But I also believe that golf can be a really safe environment. I think there’s a lot of things we can do to control the environment and make sure that we create a safe and healthy place.”

The National Allied Golf Associations in Alberta has worked with course operators and Alberta Golf to develop a safety plan for courses, should they be able to open in the coming weeks.

The list of safety enhancements include increased sanitization, limiting rentals and removing common-use equipment.

“If you’re out on the course, you’re distanced from people you’re golfing with. You never touch the golf flag. If your ball goes into the bunker, you take it out. There’d be no rakes in the bunker,” said Kevin Smith with Alberta Golf.

“We really think golf is positioned well in this province to get an exemption and to be part of the solution for mental health for Albertans that have been cooped up for a month,” Smith said.

Dr. Hinshaw says the rules will only be relaxed when it’s clear the pandemic is under control.

“That sacrifice, just like all the others sacrifices Albertans are making, is helping us to maintain that good performance we’ve been able to have so far,” Dr. Hinshaw said.