The Massive Challenges Facing Golf Clubs as Doors Reopen
SO IT’S official then. Golf is about to return in England, but for some time to come it is going to be a very different game to the one that we knew before March 23. The club game already faced some huge challenges this year after one of the wettest winters on record meant the sport was already behind the eight-ball.
Clubs face massive problems and new challenges as they prepare to open for business again. One of the biggest of these is that the current restrictions mean that although club members will be able to play, they cannot use the clubhouse - and that means there will be no additional revenue streams for clubs that have already been hit hard.
If a golf club is going to reopen for its members it will have to unfurlough staff, but how do they do that if they don’t have any money coming in? Many club members should expect to be asked to dig deep to help courses survive. Without levies, it is difficult to see how some are going to be able to survive.
We still don’t know exactly how many courses will be opening - and it seems inevitable that some may never do so again.
Governing bodies have worked closely to draw up protocols designed to make golf safe. While recreational play resumes, overheads have to be covered with limited revenue streams, and, of course, professional golf still faces an uncertain future.
The good news is that golf is a sport that readily lends itself to social distancing and this means members can reacquaint themselves with their clubs in England.
Fourball golf will remain a thing of the past for a while yet. Government rules say exercise can only be taken with members of the same household or with one other person from a different household. For golf, it will mean playing on your own or with one other person or within your family group.
All tee-times will have to be booked in advance and players will be expected to arrive shortly before they start and leave as soon as rounds are completed, and swapping scorecards will not be allowed.
When the rules were changed last year, provision was made for golfers to putt with the flag in the hole. This was brought in to help speed up play, but it is now an essential component of the game. Nobody will be allowed to touch the flagstick and it is likely that many clubs will remove flags altogether. And, of course, holes will either be upturned of filled in.
Bunker rakes have all been removed - or should have been. This will put the onus on you to smooth over the sand with your foot or your sand wedge, although many clubs have simply taken the decision to declare all bunkers as “ground under repair”, meaning you can remove your ball from the sand without penalty.
Ball washers, usually located next to teeing grounds, are to be taken out of use. The same applies to benches and seats dotted around courses, which now become a form of out of bounds.
And changing in the car park will now become the new norm. It is essential that you turn up ready to play and nobody will frown at you when you change into your golf shoes in the car park.
Putting surfaces obviously have to be regularly mown and some course managers and staff have now been taught how to operate mowers - this means we may have to live with some putting surfaces that are a little less than perfect.
The good news is that golf bodies are working together like never before, with England Golf, the R&A, the Professional Golfers' Association, the Golf Course Managers' Association and the British and International Greenkeepers' Association are uniting to promote golf's cause. And about time too.
Although golfers will be playing again, economic challenges remain. With clubhouses and professional shops shut, additional revenue streams will be curtailed. Clubs will prioritise their members and the number of starting slots will be limited by smaller playing groups and spaced-out tee times. Clubs will need employees to prepare courses for play but with limited revenue in return.
What About the Pro Game?
The Korean LPGA resumes behind closed doors this week with Sung Hyun Park, Sei Young Kim and Jeongeun Lee6 taking part in the KLPGA Championship at Lakewood Country Club in Yangju. On Sunday, Rory McIlroy partners Dustin Johnson against Rickie Fowler and Matthew Wolff in a televised charity match at Seminole in Florida without spectators.
The PGA Tour will restart in Texas on June 11, with the first four events all being played without spectators. There are strong rumours the British Masters will start a week earlier than scheduled on July 23 and mark the start of four tournaments in a row to be held in Britain. But this has yet to be confirmed.
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