When is Golf Coming Back - How Things Stand
Now in February, it has been a quiet winter for golfers due to courses and ranges being closed throughout the majority of the United Kingdom, with Scotland the outlier, as the country continues to grapple with the devastating impact of the ongoing coronavirus pandemic.
With schools, businesses, and the hospitality industry remaining severely constricted by restrictions that have been established since the festive period, the current state of golf is rightly not at the highest level of priority within the minds of politicians and scientists making challenging decisions, but it is part of the story for millions of keen golfers, not least valued members of the Golfshake Community.
Ultimately, we all want "normal" back to our lives, or something resembling that, and golf is a key component for many.
It's expected that there will be continued dark days ahead through the remainder of winter, but the brighter times of spring promise something, with the hoped reduction in transmission and the success of the mass-vaccination programme potentially resulting in noticeable changes through March and April, leading to a happier summer.
And golf will be part of that.
We take a look at where things stand at the moment, what the governing bodies are doing, and when announcements could be made about the possible resumption of everyday life (and golf) as we once knew it.
Prime Minister Boris Johnson has promised to share a "roadmap" on the 22nd of February, which will outline the steps that will take England out of the present state of lockdown.
Consequently, it's expected that little will change until March, with the hope being that from the 8th of that month, schools will begin a phased return.
Where this places golf is unclear, but the case has been made by England Golf and the All-Parliamentary Group for Golf, which updated its COVID-19 Secure Golf in the United Kingdom paper, submitting the letter to the PM, and the Chief Medical Officers of England, Northern Ireland, Scotland, and Wales.
Featuring input from epidemiologist and Principal Advisor on Physical Activity for Health to the four United Kingdom Chief Medical Officers, Professor Charlie Foster, and Chief Medical Officer to the European Tour, Consultant in Sport and Exercise Medicine at the University of Edinburgh, Dr Andrew Murray, the paper promotes the steps taken by the golf industry to deliver a safe sport, while also demonstrating the academic and scientific research on the benefits to physical and mental health that the ancient game can offer.
Professor Foster said: “As the paper shows, golf can be played safely, and it should have a central role in the government’s thinking when it comes to helping people exercise now and as we come out of pandemic restrictions.
“I have therefore recommended that an expert in physical activity join the SAGE advisory group to ensure there is consistency across the sciences represented within it, and to provide advice on allowing physical activity to return as restrictions are reduced.”
Welsh First Minister, Mark Drakeford, announced on the 29th of January that there would be no change to current restrictions, meaning that golf courses across Wales will remain closed. The next review will take place on the 19th of February.
Wales Golf notes that it has continued to promote the exercise benefits of golf within existing protocols, but as it stands, tees remain empty throughout the country.
A six-week lockdown took effect in Northern Ireland on the 26th of December, which was subsequently extended until the 5th of March at the earliest.
First Minister, Arlene Foster is expected to review this on the 18th of February, but figures around the government have said that restrictions could remain in place through to Easter.
Gratefully for golfers in Scotland, courses have remained open since the return from the initial lockdown in late May, but play has been restricted to two-balls since the New Year and travel for exercise is only permitted within your local authority area, which has proven frustrating for some members who belong to clubs outside their region.
The present Level 4 restrictions are to remain in place until at least mid-February, with a Scottish Government review imminent, but it's unlikely that anything substantial will change for sport, as the priority is understandably focused on the hoped phased return of children back to regular school.
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