Coronavirus: Scottish golf courses close en masse despite mixed messages from Government

Golf courses around Scotland have closed en masse for the first time since the Second World War despite the Government sending out mixed messages over golf during the coronavirus pandemic.

Course closed signs are now in place at venues all over Scotland, including Cranoustie Championship Course, where Francesco Molinari won a memorable Open Championship in 2018. Picture: Craig Boath
Course closed signs are now in place at venues all over Scotland, including Cranoustie Championship Course, where Francesco Molinari won a memorable Open Championship in 2018. Picture: Craig Boath

The sport appears to have gone into a complete lockdown in its birthplace, though only after the odd club had initially ignored a request from Scottish Golf for people to "refrain from playing".

Management at Ballumbie Castle on the outskirts of Dundee posted on Facebook this morning that it would "remain open", but that message was subsequently deleted after the decision attracted criticism. It is now closed.

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In his television address to the nation on Monday night, Prime Minister Boris Johnson said one of the reasons people would be allowed to leave their homes over the next three weeks was for "one form of exercise a day". He also said that could be done alone or with members of a household.

Course closed signs are now in place at venues all over Scotland, including Cranoustie Championship Course, where Francesco Molinari won a memorable Open Championship in 2018. Picture: Craig Boath

Responding to that in a post on Twitter, former world No 1 Lee Westwood wrote: "Am I allowed to go and play nine holes with my son who’s in the same household as my form of exercise?"

The answer was provided by Michael Gove, the Cabinet Officer Minister, in an interview on BBC Breakfast on Tuesday morning when he said: "I don't think people should be playing golf....exercise should be walking, cycling or running."

Following the Prime Minister's plea for people to "stay at home", Scottish Golf asked the nation's golfers to "refrain from playing". England Golf, Wales Golf and the Golfing Union of Ireland all took a slightly stronger view by saying that all golf clubs, courses and facilities "must close" with immediate effect.

"While golf is an outdoor sport that allows players to exercise in the fresh air, the message to all of us is clear, we must stay home and play our part in containing the spread of Covid-19," said a statement from Scottish Golf, the governing body, to member clubs. "With this in mind, Scottish Golf asks that all golfers in Scotland refrain from golfing until further notice.

"We understand that this advice will have a significant impact on golf clubs across the country and we will continue to consult with industry partners to provide clubs with all information and support possible during this time of deep uncertainty.

"We know that these decisions are difficult ones to make, but right now, it is our shared responsibility to prioritise the health of our local communities by working together to follow the Government guidelines. In doing so, this will ensure that we get the opportunity to play the game that we all love as soon as it is safe to do so."

A number of clubs, including Gullane, one of the busiest in Scotland, moved swiftly on Monday night to announce the closure of courses with immediate effect, with lots of others doing likewise on Tuesday morning.

Some golfers were still out playing, though, at other courses, including Silverknowes, which was closed by Edinburgh Leisure along with the other municipal courses in the capital last Thursday but people have still been venturing out to play.

“We need to protect everyone involved in golf," said Scottish Golf CEO Andrew McKinlay. "We’ve taken our advice from the Government, and it has been made very clear, golf is not to be played. The quicker people adhere to these instructions, hopefully the sooner we will all be back outside safely enjoying a round of golf and that's what we all want.

“This is an unprecedented time in all our lives. There is no doubt that every industry will be affected and, yes, this will have an impact on the golfing industry. We are working closely with partners across the industry to monitor, evaluate and understand the impact of COVID-19 on golf, but it’s just too early to know.”

In a post on its Twitter account, Pitlochry Golf Club predicted "tough" times ahead, adding: "We’ve already had members looking for money back on this year's subscription. Talk about kicking a man when he’s down. With zero chance of visitors, we have lost 60 per cent of our income this year."

Mike Robson, the club manager/secretary at Swanston Golf Club on the outskirts of Edinburgh, said he feared the current situation could "accelerate the closure of many clubs who were struggling prior to the coronavirus scare".

He added: "There will be a big loss in income to the 'must-play' clubs, however over the years they have had huge green fee income revenue so should be fine whereas the smaller less popular clubs will lose much-needed income that came from guests, visitors and Society outings. Worry times indeed."

Mike MacDonald, club secretary at Fortrose & Rosemarkie on the Black Isle, said the closure of courses was "understandable" in the circumstances at a time when "keeping safe is the priority".

He added: "We really have no choice, and this move is entirely in line with the public health advice we have all been given by the government in addition to their science and medical advisers to try to delay the transmission of the coronavirus.

"We look forward to reopening our doors to our members and the many visiting golfers who come here as soon as it is appropriate to do so."

Greenkeeping staff are being allowed to work on courses during the closure period, having been given permission to carry out "essential maintenance" as long as guidelines on social distancing are adhered to.

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