Freedom Day: How your golf club is affected by new rules

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Steve Carroll rounds up all the new coronavirus restriction changes and what they mean for golf in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland

It’s Freedom Day in England and across the UK a raft of other coronavirus restrictions have been eased – all of which have an impact on the way you can play golf.

We round up the changes and the latest guidance from the sport’s governing bodies in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland…

England

England Golf’s guidance was updated on July 19 and includes the “removal of any restrictions around on course items” as well as the end of social distancing.

The governing body have amended their Play Safe, Stay Safe framework, which means “all golf course furniture may be returned for normal use, including the removal of flagsticks, standard hole cups, bunker rakes and ball-washers”.

England Golf have recommended clubs provide hand sanitiser stations on the course, and around practice facilities, to ensure golfers can regularly clean their hands.

In a three-page document, they also advise that competition and scoring – such as the handling and submitting of scorecards – can return to how it was pre-pandemic.

“Coronavirus-related changes to the rules of golf and all handicapping provisions that enabled the game to be played competitively during the period in which restrictions have been set are to be removed.”

While the updates signal a return to golfing normality, England Golf have recommended clubs consider “keeping a form of tee booking or player registration system in place”.

Pro shops, clubhouses, hospitality areas, changing facilities and other indoor areas can run as normal, while, on course, the planned removal of rules around social distancing and congregation numbers will mean “there are no restrictions on the golf course with regards to course furniture, sharing equipment, touching golf balls or the size of groups, beyond those set by the club.”

Wales

Wales have moved fully into Alert Level 1 restrictions and also took the first steps into Alert Level Zero on Saturday, July 17.

Wales Golf have eased the guidance for clubs in the country but note they must conduct a “thorough risk assessment when implementing any changes, and should consult with their health & safety advisor and insurance provider when making any changes”.

The governing body have confirmed the following alterations have come into effect:

+ Scoring in Stroke Play (Rule 3.3b) – the provisions of Rule 3.3b apply where the player’s score is kept on his or her scorecard by a marker. Certification of the scorecard by the marker and by the player should occur, as per the guidelines of Rule 3.3b(2).

+ Flagsticks – There will no longer be a requirement to leave the flagstick in the hole at all times.

+ Hole, and Definition of Holed – Coronavirus related changes to the definition of a hole and when the ball is holed are now removed.

+ Rakes – Preferred lies in bunkers will no longer be permissible, and bunkers should no longer be made ground under repair, so it is recommended that rakes are returned to the course.

+ On-Course Furnishings – Course furnishings such as ball washers, benches, bins etc. can be in use on the course.

+ Social Distancing – The regulations will no longer give particular prominence to 2 metre physical distancing outdoors.

On the shared use of buggies, clubs that want to allow it will need to carry out a risk assessment. Wales Golf say mitigating circumstances could include the use of a screen and/or the driver and passenger remaining in the same place throughout the round of golf.

They state buggies should be thoroughly sanitised before and after each use.

On touching flagsticks and rakes, Wales Golf say clubs should provide “regular hand sanitiser stations on the golf course, and golfers should be reminded to bring their own hand sanitiser”.

They add: “Clubs should also provide guidance to golfers, including that before touching on course items, any gloves should be removed and hands should be sanitised. After touching an on-course item, hands should be sanitised again.  In addition, the items should be cleaned regularly.”

Scotland

Mainland Scotland moved to Protection Level 0 on Monday, July 19 and Scottish Golf have updated their guidance with the following key changes in place:

+ Outdoor bubbles (coaching & competition) up to 500 with no participant limit per day

+ Locker Rooms/Changing Facilities can re-open

+ Indoor Hospitality extended to groups of 10 people from 4 households

+ All golf course furniture may be returned for normal use, including the removal of flagsticks, standard hole cups and bunker rakes

+ Preferred lies in bunkers may remain in place at club’s discretion, recognising that not every golfer will wish to use a communal rake

Scottish Golf recommend each club carry out a risk assessment that is “specific to the situation at their club”.

The governing body adds: “While this latest update is a further step forward in the return to golf and its traditions as we know it, until such time as restrictions are lifted fully we would urge everyone to continue to risk assess for their specific environment and respect differing perspectives in relation to risk will still be evident across the wide range of golfers in Scotland.”

Northern Ireland

Golf in Northern Ireland reopened on April 1 and on April 26 in the Republic of Ireland. Click here for the latest Return to Golf protocol in Northern Ireland, which has applied since June 7, and click here for the measures in the Republic, which came into effect on the same date.

Will you be taking the flag out and swapping scorecards or will your club be more cautious? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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