George Stead
By George Stead

Reports this morning have revealed that golf clubs across the UK may be given a notice period of less than 24 hours to reopen. This begs the questions: are golf clubs ready for the return to golf? If not, is 24 hours enough time to allow golf clubs to ready themselves to open? Finally, does this suggest that with such a short notice period, the golf we play will be in a far different form to the one we know and love?

Golf Clubs 24 Hours Notice

The UK is halfway through its seventh week of lockdown and rumours are starting to circulate across the country about the return to some form of normality and what that may entail. A return to golf in particular, or ‘some form of golf’ at least, seems to be up there on the list of outdoor activities that we may be able to enjoy once Boris Johnson gives the nation his update on the next phase of lockdown this coming Sunday.

A Downing Street spokesperson has confirmed that outdoor activities will be discussed at a meeting on May 7th, although we doubt that anything else will be revealed until the Prime Minister's actual speech. Given that there is less likelihood of transmission of Covid-19 outdoors compared to indoors, golfers across the country have reason to be optimistic.

Opinions were circulated last week when the Irish government issued a new directive on outdoor activities, suggesting that golf courses could reopen on May 18th, however they will have to abide by a strict set of new rules. One of the new rules proposed is that only members living within a 5km radius of their club would be eligible to play, therefore minimising travel time and distance.

Last week MPs such as North Warwickshire’s Craig Tracey have chaired and taken part in virtual meetings with golf's industry bodies including The R&A, The PGA, the UK Golf Federation and the British Golf Industry Association with the outcome being a positive one, giving a strong indication that golf courses could reopen shortly.

Other golf courses throughout Europe in countries such as France and Portugal are also beginning to open. Portugal reopened golf courses on May 4th and the FFG, the golfing union in France, has announced that golf courses can reopen from May 11. This announcement came on the back of the French Prime Minister Edouard Phillipe stating people ‘will be able to do individual sports’. Interestingly however, French golf clubs are unclear on what regulations they will have to follow once courses are open and hope that they will have this information soon.

For the UK, last week the R&A issued a set of ‘guidelines’ that offer assistance on how golf clubs and golf facilities should proceed once the UK lockdown is lifted and golf is therefore permitted again. If you haven’t already – read them here.

However, the key word here for me is ‘guideline’ – these are not rules, just suggestions as to how golf clubs can return to golf safely. Surely once it is announced that golf clubs can re-open, there will have to be a streamlined, adapted and potentially stricter adherence to these guidelines?

Golf Clubs 24 Hours Notice

Public health, pandemics and infectious diseases expert Professor Robert Dingwall is also backing the return to golf. He recently informed Sky News that golf courses could reopen with just a ‘couple of days’ notice, adding that golf is a game that can be played while observing social distancing rules.

However, going one step further, greenkeeping association BIGGA has stated that clubs should be prepared for a notice period that’s less than 24 hours. Cause for some serious optimism it seems…

In contrast to this, The Times have somewhat dampened this optimism this morning stating: ‘The resumption of outdoor activities that lend themselves to social distancing such as golf and fishing may be delayed however’. The article continues, referring to the culture secretary, Oliver Dowden, being sympathetic to appeals by outdoor sports to restart public participation but also saying that number 10 is keen to announce a ‘comprehensive package’. The reference to a comprehensive package could lead to it taking more time and therefore taking into account a lot of sports besides golf in an attempt to keep everybody happy. The report then concludes stating that any resumption will require a notice period.

Courses in the US have been steadily opening over the last couple of weeks despite the country still suffering from huge numbers of coronavirus-related deaths. Yesterday, the state of Washington permitted the reopening of its golf courses leaving just four states still banning the playing of golf, one of which is planning on opening courses on May 11th.

One area that hasn’t seen much discussion is driving ranges, separate to golf clubs. They propose an interesting argument as it’s not clear whether they are being discussed in the same category as golf clubs and courses themselves. One would have thought that a driving range is set up perfectly for post-lockdown, socially-distant golf? Surely only a few adjustments would be needed for them to open at full capacity?

Turn up on your own, pay for your balls token using contactless payment, collect your balls whilst keeping your distance, hit your balls in your bay, leave.

Surely there would just need to be very strict hygiene rules? Balls washed after every collection, balls baskets washed after every use and the bays themselves cleaned regularly.

Looking further afield than just the golf industry, another beauty of opening driving ranges would be that it would help the UK economy as it would mean that not just members of golf clubs could get out and hit balls. If golf clubs do open soon, it’s almost a certainty that it will be under a ‘members only’ policy.

After all, despite the speculation, another interesting point to make is that there may be a short notice period once the announcement we are all waiting for is made, but when that announcement is made may not be as close as we all think.

One thing that does seem certain through all this speculation is that golf is returning, and soon, but in what from and under what restrictions we do not know. We are all waiting with baited breath, just like so many other industries struggling under the pressures of the COVID-19 pandemic.

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