As Wales continues to live in a state of lockdown, golfers in Carmarthenshire have been hitting the fairways for the first time in almost two months.
Despite most clubs across the country still being closed, some have already reopened and welcomed back members.
Confusion reigns over how far people can travel to play a round of golf, following the announcement on Tuesday that clubs could reopen.
Jason Thomas, director of the Welsh Government’s culture, sport and tourism department, explained that golf courses were never forced to close, but that restrictions on non-essential travel meant that, in reality, they had to.
“Legally they don’t have to be closed,” said Mr Thomas. “We have clarified that we do want to encourage people to exercise but exercise locally.”
In England, golfers are permitted to drive any distance to exercise, including to play golf.
In Wales, however, that is not the case. Instead, the Welsh Government say that “people should not travel a significant distance from their home to exercise” – but there is no set rule or guidance on what “a significant distance” refers to.
The Welsh Government’s website states: “People are asked to exercise good judgement and common sense.”
Wales Golf – the governing body of amateur golf in Wales – have issued guidelines on when and how clubs across the country can welcome members back to the tee.
They advised most clubs not to open immediately so that they can “ensure they have sufficient protocols in place to adhere to these guidelines”.
They have earmarked Monday, May 18 as the day when they should reopen, therefore allowing for “a managed and co-ordinated reintroduction of golf across Wales”.
However, some clubs in Wales have been given the go-ahead to open early by the governing body, including Derllys Court on the outskirts of Carmarthen.
As a family-run business, the owners have been on-site since lockdown began. This means that maintenance of the course has been maintained, and those protocols and safety measures mentioned above have already been implemented.
Arriving at the car park, it is clear that many members are already making the most of the situation.
All members arrived by car – a necessity given the club’s rural location between the towns of Carmarthen and St Clears – and all considered themselves to be ‘local’.
One member, who lives a few miles away from the course, said they had not travelled “a significant distance” from home in order to play, adding that it is difficult to ascertain what that would be defined as anyway without concrete guidelines.
The club’s owner – who has been busy making sure that the course is ready to operate in this new, social distancing era of golf – was delighted to welcome members back.
“We’ve been closed since the Prime Minister announced the lockdown on March 23,” said Rhian Walters, who manages Derllys Court Golf Club along with her parents and her brother.
“We’ve been managing the course throughout that time and liaising closely with Wales Golf, who have been supporting us from the beginning, helping us to get prepared and making sure that we have everything in place, which is why we can open now, before May 18.
“It’s great to have people back on the course and the vibe has been brilliant. I’ve been inundated with messages and calls and the people here are just happy to be back. I have kept in touch with the members throughout this period, just making sure that they are alright and showing that we care.
“Membership fees were due in April and a lot of people were happy to pay for the year because they care about the golf club and its future.”
While Wednesday, May 13 saw players back on the tee, strict guidelines are in place which state that people can only play in parties of a maximum of two and even then only if the other person is a member of the same household.
This differs from England, where from Wednesday, people can play with one other person from outside their household.
On the course itself, players are advised not to touch the flags or the pins, not to pick up stray balls, not to ring the warning bells, and not to hang around and socialise after their round has been completed.
Benches at the course have also been decommissioned, and rakes have been removed from bunkers, meaning players can only tidy the sand with their clubs or shoes.
The clubhouse is closed, and the club shops operates a strict ‘one in and one out’ policy.
Meanwhile, tee-off times have to be booked in advance online or over the phone and have to be spaced out, with no two parties of two (or individual players) teeing off within 10 minutes of each other.
One local member who bounced onto the course on the first day back was Teifryn Bowen, who’s been a part of the Derllys Court community for more than 20 years.
He hadn’t swung a golf club since the day before Boris Johnson announced lockdown restrictions in March.
“With the lockdown in place I have been working – delivering meat to homes – so that’s been something to keep me busy at least. But I’ve found the weekends very boring – I’ve mowed the lawn more than I ever have before!”
Walking to the first tee by himself, he said: “I can’t wait to play again. Obviously I would prefer to play with somebody else but for the moment that’s not possible.
“Hopefully things will continue to get better, but for now it’s just nice to be on the course.
“I don’t get many other opportunities for exercise – just work and golf – so it’s great to be back.”
Everyone in Derllys Court was in a similar mood: thankful that golf was back in their lives while adhering to the new normal.
Guidelines are laid out on benches and signposts along the course, cars are parked a healthy distance away from each other in the car park, and hand sanitiser awaits every player as they make their way to the first tee.
While Mr Bowen had to make do with a round by himself, one couple was also taking advantage of the club’s reopening.
Edward Ress, a local hairdresser, and his girlfriend Sara Tidey, a local optician, have been members at the club for a few years, and were thrilled when they discovered on Tuesday that they could get back onto the fairways less than 24 hours later.
“It’s our first day back for ages,” said Mr Rees. “I’ve never seen so many couples out on the course.
“The last time we played it was winter conditions so to see like this is fantastic. We only found out yesterday (Tuesday) so we quickly managed to book a tee-time.
“This is the best exercise you can get, especially in terms of social distancing. I coach junior football as well but that’s all off at the moment obviously so it’s great to have golf back – I’ll play every day if I can; it breaks the day up and gets you out in the fresh air – I think for seniors in particular it’s massively important.”
As for the new guidelines in place, Mr Edwards was more than happy to go along with them if it meant getting back on the course.
He added: “We played the top nine holes first but then had to wait about half an hour to start the bottom nine so we just sat in the car and waited our turn.”
Mr Rees’s partner, Miss Tidey, said it was a “huge relief” to see the course open again.
“I haven’t played golf since March,” she said.
“I’ve been furloughed from my job so other than going to the supermarket I haven’t really been able to go anywhere, so it’s just nice to be back.”
While the club may look and feel slightly different for members since they last took to the fairways in what feels like a different age altogether, in their minds, any golf is better than no golf, for both physical and mental health.
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