‘No more harmful than a walk’: Golf courses left behind by blanket sports ban

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Some golf courses in Surrey have objected to the government’s decision to ban golf during second lockdown.

A petition calling on the government to ‘exempt golf courses from the list of venues required to close due to Covid-19’ managed to gain more than a quarter of a million signatures within the space of 24 hours, before closing on November 1.

Getting over 100,000 signatures means it will be considered for a parliamentary debate, but that would be months down the line for something that will not have any effect by then.

One strong endorser of the petition is Richard Haygarth, who feels golf courses have been left behind by a blanket sports ban, and that their concerns have not been paid proper attention.

He chairs the UK Golf Federation and is co-owner of Maple Leaf Golf alongside his wife Sally Haygarth, which operates at Horton Park Golf Club in Epsom.

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Sally and Richard Haygarth, pictured at the course before lockdown came in

He said: “We were confident it wasn’t going to be, we were really blindsided when the announcement came out that golf was to be closed.”

After the first lockdown, golf returned on May 13 [with food and beverages returning in July], and there were a host of changes, from pre-booking to increasing times in-between tee times.

Richard sees no reason why this second lockdown golf ban should be the case, especially when people are still free to walk around the course.

He said: “When a golf course is full, everyone has about an acre each! It’s not a contact sport, or a sport where people need to be close together. The nature of the game really works for us in being able to operate safely.”

His comments are echoed by Philip Worthington, director of golf at The Royal Automobile Club, another site in Epsom where golf can ordinarily be played.

Mr Worthington said: “Golf has provided a huge number of participants with a socially distanced form of exercise. With suitable rules and operating practices in place, playing golf creates no additional contact points than would be found by two, three or four people walking in a park or going for a jog.

“Here at the Royal Automobile Club in Epsom, many members have told us about the benefits they have felt in both their physical and mental wellbeing. Currently, there are no restrictions on outdoor exercise that should prevent golf from being played safely in two-balls or with people from the same household.”

Golf courses are some of Surrey’s most popular beauty spots. Pictured is West Hill Golf Course in Brookwood, taken before social distancing measures were in place.

Throughout his activity with the UK Golf Federation, Mr Haygarth sits on the All-Party Parliamentary Group (APPG) for Golf, alongside Craig Tracey, Conservative MP for North Warwickshire.

Mr Tracey has said that he is disappointed that the government has not been able to keep the courses open.

In a statement released in advance of the lockdown measures coming in, he said: “Obviously the Government has difficult decisions to make at this time.

“But when you consider significant mental and physical health benefits of golf, and that it is a sport that is enjoyed by such a wide range of people, we [at the APPG] are naturally disappointed [the government has] taken the position that it has.”

It had not been an easy year for golf even before lockdown came into place. Storms that hit the country in February were not friendly conditions for golfers.

Mr Haygarth said: “We’re seeing the same things around the UK [excepting current difference in Scotland and Wales], everyone I talk to has had a very similar year.

“We run Chichester, Horton and Hill Barn down in Sussex, and our experiences at all three sites are very similar [as are] the things that people are doing to ensure that customers are safe.”


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