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Do We Really Want to Play in Fourballs Again

By: | Mon 01 Jun 2020 | Comments

AND so it turns out that the latest relaxation of the lockdown rules means that we are going to be able to play in three and four balls once again.

This raises some interesting questions. If social media is to be believed, one of the things that most of you have most enjoyed about returning to golf has been the brisk pace of play in twoballs, with three-hour rounds becoming the new normal. This will, of course, all change now. So how tolerant will we be? Will we all still be happy enough just to be out there?

Will it trouble us that, inevitably, rounds will start to take upwards of four hours once again? There will be no time spent hanging around the clubhouse before or after games so perhaps the smiles will remain on the faces of most people, but how will those new members cope when they realise that part and parcel of this wonderful game of our means waiting for people to look for golf balls, hanging around in the fairway while the green ahead clears, or just generally growing frustrated because a slower fourball will not let you play through?

The big plus about the reintroduction of fourballs is that it will free up plenty more tee-times and that means courses will be looking to welcome members’ guests and those turning up to pay green fees. An additional bonus is that it is all happening when increasing numbers of people have more time on their hands; not to mention the fact that the weather is absolutely glorious, and looks like being that way for some time to come.

It turns out that some golf clubs have already decided that they are going to stick with two ball golf for the time being on the basis that people are enjoying three-hour rounds.

So where do we go from here?

Golf clubs can hardly believe their luck, with new members queuing up to join. Mike Tompkinson, the captain of Louth Golf Club, believes his club is in a stronger position now than it was before the lockdown - and that is without any bar revenue. Tompkinson points to new members and the fact that the club has used thelockdown to review how it operates. As we have repeatedly said, clubs that innovate are the ones that are most likely to come out of this in decent shape.

“We will be in a better position than we were before lockdown because we have got new members joining and we are promoting golf around the town [the club has organised mailshots to local housing estates promoting the course],” Tompkinson told the Louth Leader newspaper.

“The interest has been really really good, we have had lots of new visitor and membership inquiries,” he said. "It is a positive story at the moment. We have secured our membership support and focused on them to thank them for their loyalty.

“In terms of new members, we opened our doors to visitors and green fee payers in the second week of our reopening. We have done a huge amount on social media, which is a fairly new strategy for us, but one that has improved our profile. We are encouraging members to bring guests and recommend us.”

In addition, he said the club has used the lockdown period to review how it operates.

“Lockdown has given us a chance to look at how we run things and to try and find ways to be more effective going forwards.” he said.

He believes the image of golf during the pandemic remains positive. “It would be lovely to have the clubhouse open again. but we have got a responsibility as a sport to do the right thing and set a good example to other sports on social distancing,” he said.

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An unexpected side-effect of the crisis is that the huge numbers who are now playing could lead to some courses having to close for essential maintenance to be carried out. Neil Sjoberg, the owner of Epping Golf Course, has said he will not be surprised if busy venues have to shut for a couple of weeks so that greenkeepers can carry out essential maintenance.

He also said that a surprising development has been a sharp increase in golf ball sales – not just because more people are playing the game, but also because the rough is so long that balls are being lost, the pace of play is so fast that golfers do not want to spend much time looking for them and because people do not want to pick up balls that might not be theirs due to Covid-19 risks.

Having spoken with several managers of golf clubs in and around East Anglia, Neil said: “All the venues have reported a surge in membership – mostly at least 50 new members. One of the reasons for the membership rush is that most clubs charge pro rata fees and, as we are well into the season, new members get summer golf membership at a reduced price. The test will be to see if they renew next year.

“Although all the golf clubs tend to be in a better than average condition because of the lack of use – no divots, no pitch marks and the tees are unworn – the reduced greenstaff has made daily maintenance since opening a difficult task. The greatly increased traffic has meant that many are finding tee areas quickly worn and are having to introduce tee mats which are normally only used during the winter.

“Some clubs are not allowing golf until 9am now, to give greenkeepers time to prepare the course. I can see a recurrence of the 1960s and 1970s when courses closed for a couple of weeks to give them a rest and greenkeepers were given a chance to divot and water tees. I can remember Chingford GC recording 86,000 rounds of golf in one year – some old courses had 110,000 rounds."

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