FIRST it was Ireland that announced it was reopening its golf courses, albeit with severe restrictions in place. And now courses in the Isle of Man, Guernsey and Jersey have also allowed golfers back on the course, but they can only play on their own and clubhouses will remain closed.
Restrictions are also being eased In Portugal, with courses in the Algarve opening their tees again – it will be many months before areas such as the Algarve recover, however, as they depend so much upon tourists and, of course, there are no flights in and out of Portugal at present – and that is likely to remain the case for the foreseeable future. Even France, where lockdown measures have been among the most extreme in Europe, is ready to reopen its golf courses on May 11.
Speculation and rumour has intensified in recent days, suggesting that courses will reopen in the UK during May, a topic that golfers have shared their views on Golfshake.
Craig Tracey, the Tory MP for North Warwickshire, who said: “I would like to say well done to all the different bodies involved. MPs know how valuable golf is to the UK as it has a huge economic impact, employs large numbers and has significant positive influence on people’s health. The nature of the game means it can, and should, return quickly provided there are steps taken by all involved to maintain social distancing and to meet any other government instruction.”
Boris Johnson, the Prime Minister, is to address the nation on Sunday, when he is expected to announce how we are going to get out of lockdown. He is also expected to announce a relaxation of some restrictions on sporting activities, and it is widely predicted that will give the green light for club golf to resume.
Looking at guidelines that have been revealed by The R&A and governing bodies, similar to Ireland, play will likely be restricted to two balls, social distancing will be strictly enforced and there will be no access to clubhouse facilities other than the changing rooms. Golfers will be told to turn up ready to play. They won’t be allowed to touch flags and there will be no rakes. We are probably going to have to get used to playing to upturned holes for a while.
It is unclear whether non-members are going to be able to play yet. In Ireland, the GUI has recommended that courses are only going to be open for members initially, so don’t be surprised to see the UK follow suit.
Speaking to National Club Golfer, England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson urged patience and understanding in the weeks that lie ahead.
“I understand the big question right now is ‘when will golf return?’ For us it’s just as important to ask, ‘how will golf return?’” he said. “I would urge everyone who loves the game to keep the faith right now and make sure this great game of ours not only does the right thing but is widely acknowledged for doing the right thing. We must continue to act responsibly. Now is not a time to break ranks and think golf can somehow ‘get round’ the current guidelines and hasten a return.
“The crucial thing is to make sure it is safe for golf to return. We can’t do things that unnecessarily increase the pressure on our NHS and other vital services or risk undoing all the sacrifices the country has made over the past five weeks. That must be everyone’s primary concern. We were strong in our original thought process to close courses, have remained consistent ever since 23 March and the response from the huge majority of golfers and golf clubs since that date has been exemplary.
“Golf is important in all our lives, but right now it has to be secondary to matters of public health. Golf is a game where social distancing naturally takes place. However, golfers will still have to adapt when it resumes. Playing the way we have always done will not be possible as there are still health risks from the moment you arrive at the club and step out your car until you return to the car after play.
“Golfers cannot be cavalier or complacent when the game returns. Everyone is champing at the bit for golf to return, but golfers will need to be educated on the ‘Play Safe, Stay Safe’ guidelines we have issued and adhere to them. This a great opportunity for golfers to set an example, to take pride in our game and show compassion in difficult circumstances.”
Keith Pelley, the chief executive of the European Tour, is also hopeful that we might not be too far away from seeing a return of some tournament action.
He said: “My primary message is actually one of optimism because I am genuinely hopeful that from now on the information I send in relation to our 2020 schedule will be positive. We cannot emphatically commit to a start date because, as I have said many times, we will not resume until it is safe, and we are permitted to do so.
“We have 14 weeks with no tournaments, but those three and a half months are also the time where the global situation may well begin to show signs of improvement. There are discussions centring around the easing of restrictions in several countries and everyone is optimistic that these can continue.
“This window also gives us the opportunity to continue working behind the scenes on a variety of scheduling options which would allow us to provide you with a busy calendar of golf to enjoy when we do resume.”
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