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Lessons to be Learnt Before Golf Reopens

By: | Tue 28 Apr 2020 | Comments

When golf courses reopen for play in the UK, there will likely be changes and recommendations to accommodate the new normality that we are adjusting to. But what could that look like? Golfshake's Derek Clements has been looking at what has been going on in Denmark, analysing what lessons can be taken from that.

AS GOLF begins to be played in some parts of the world, and others prepare for its resumption, there may be some lessons for us to be learnt from the experience of the Danes, who have now eased restrictions.

And it is fair to say that they have been taken by surprise by the incredible demand. To be honest, from where I am sitting, the real surprise is that they did not anticipate what might happens. It stands to reason that if people have been largely cooped up for weeks, when they are told then it is now safe for them to venture outside then they are going to do so in droves. 

It is a case of realising what you have been missing. And for many club golfers, it is about far more than the game - it is about the fresh air, it is about the scenery, it is about the wildlife, it is about the exercise. And yes, of course it is about the game, the competition and camaraderie. 

So what happened in Denmark? Somewhat foolishly, they took the decision not to impose restrictions on tee-time bookings. Call me old-fashioned, if you like, but for me the most blindingly obvious implication of such a move is that people would book three, four, five, six tee-times at once, thus depriving others of the opportunity to get out there. And guess what? That is exactly what has happened. 

The Danes have also been to quick to question why they are only allowed to play in two-balls. You have to wonder if these people have learnt nothing from the events of the past few weeks. 

And there is a clamour for a return to buggies. How on earth do you exercise social distancing in a golf buggy, pray do tell? Unless, of course, it becomes one person per buggy. But no course in the land has enough buggies to accommodate such a plan. 

There will be those who will claim that older golfers should be allowed to use a buggy. I would argue that, at this time, if you are not fit enough to walk around a golf course, then you should remain indoors until this is over - no matter how difficult that might be.

What We Can Learn in the UK

When we get back to playing the game in the UK, we need to accept that there are going to be some changes, whether we like it or not.

We will be playing in twos - of that there can be little doubt. So make sure that you pick the right person you want to be out there with!

Social distancing rules must continue to be observed. To be honest, on a golf course this should be fairly easy to achieve since it is extremely rare for two players to hit the ball into the same place. And we may have to get used to there being no flags or rakes for a while yet. Don’t complain when you stand in the middle of the fairway and you can’t pick out a flag. When the time comes, just be grateful that you are out there. 

Holes will also probably be covered over, reflecting what was introduced pre-lockdown. Any and all golf clubs worth their salt will let you know before you go out where the holes are located. Don’t worry about it. You are not going to be playing any competitive golf for a long while yet so just make the most of having the chance to hit a few golf balls.

You won’t be able to just bowl up and head to the first tee. You will HAVE to book a time. And don’t follow the example of the Danes. Book one tee-time. Give others a chance to get out there. It also seems inevitable that the gaps between tee-times will be extended. Most courses currently leave eight minutes between games. This is going to have to be extended, to 10 or possibly even 15 minutes.

And if somebody should catch you up, for goodness sake, just stand back and wave them through. When it’s time to get out there we need to be more civilised and more tolerant of one another.

There will be no ball washers. If your ball gets dirty, just go into your bag and dig out another one.

And, of course, it is likely to be many months before you are going to be able to visit the clubhouse before to after you have finished. Toilet facilities will surely be available, with hand wash and hand sanitiser - we have all got into the habit of washing our hands. Don’t let those standards slip.

Sadly, it is highly likely that the senior sections that are the lifeblood of so many golf clubs will probably have to wait a little longer before they can get back out there.

When you get home, you will have to make sure that your clubs and shoes are clean - just in case. 

Venues & Governing Bodies React

Many golf clubs have suspended membership fees for the duration of the crisis, and The Belfry has announced that it will be donating its entire green-fee income on its first day of reopening to a number of UK charities.

The Belfry was scheduled to host more than 30 charity golf days in 2020 but many of its fund raising activities have been cancelled or postponed.

The donations from its green fees will support a variety of causes, from cancer, heart, kidney and Parkinson’s treatment, children’s hospitals and hospices, to charity trusts supporting ex-sportsmen. It also includes the two nominated Belfry charities for 2020, Matt Hampson Foundation and LoveBrum.

Katie Niland, Sales Director, said: “We want to share some positivity and support during what is an exceptionally challenging time for many charities who rely on donations to survive and show our support for the amazing work they do. At The Belfry, we have the pleasure to host many charity golf days a year, so we want to take this opportunity to give something back so they can continue to help those who need it most.”

“We therefore really want the first day we open the courses to count. The Brabazon, PGA National and The Derby will all be available to play and there will be some fun opportunities out on the courses to donate further, so whether you are a beginner, amateur or pro golfer, it’s sure to be a great day for some truly fantastic causes."

Bizarrely, pressure continues from some quarters for courses to be reopened now, so much so that England Golf felt compelled to clarify its stance. 

It says: "In light of the Prime Minister’s statement of March 23, keeping courses open was in conflict with the latest expert advice to the public on COVID-19. This remains the case after the First Secretary of State signalled a continuation of the government’s approach for at least another three weeks during a nationwide address on 16 April.

"Whilst the Gov.uk guidance  'Further business and premises to close' does not specifically mention golf courses, the full government guidance on staying at home starts by saying 'the single most important action we can all take, in fighting coronavirus, is to stay at home in order to protect the NHS and save lives'.

"The government clearly recognises the importance of exercise to the physical and mental health and wellbeing of people in permitting them to leave home once per day. However, the examples given in a walk, run or cycle can all be undertaken straight from home without any other journey. The intention is clearly to reduce as much as possible the scope for social interaction between people and to reduce journeys taken to a bare minimum.

"It is the view of England Golf that encouraging people to attend golf courses at this time is incompatible with the government instruction that people must stay at home unless absolutely necessary. These are unprecedented times, and England Golf’s response is reasonable and proportionate in all the circumstances. The response is in line with that of golf bodies in other jurisdictions.”

So there you have it. Things will change when we do start playing again. But, for now, playing is not an option. We have said it before and we say it again: do NOT play golf at this time.

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