Global insights as golf courses around the world reopen

As golf courses start to reopen across Europe, the consequences of failing to follow strict guidelines aimed at delivering "safe golf" during the ongoing coronavirus have been highlighted in Germany.

Courses in Scotland and the UK have been closed since lockdown guidelines were announced on 23 March and will face restrictions when they are allowed to reopen. Picture: JPI Media
Courses in Scotland and the UK have been closed since lockdown guidelines were announced on 23 March and will face restrictions when they are allowed to reopen. Picture: JPI Media

The Scotsman has learned that some clubs in the Berlin area have already been closed, just days after reopening, due to not following the safety rules while one in Bavaria has been hit with a 25,000 Euros fine for opening without official permission.

Germany's Chancellor Angela Merkel is meeting with prime ministers of the various regions in the country today to try and find a solution for sports, with hopes of the Bundesliga returning on 22 May.

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However, some golf courses have already reopened after being closed en masse like UK courses due to the pandemic pandemonium.

"It's pretty chaotic," Petra Himmel, one of Germany's leading golf writers, told The Scotsman. "The regulations at the moment countrywide are two persons per flight (tee time), but clubhouse regulations differ in each region.

"Each club is controlled by its local authorities, and a few clubs in the Berlin area had to close directly after they had the permission to open again, because they didn’t follow the security rules.

"All in all, the atmosphere in German golf is very heated up. Golfers are accusing the federations of being too lazy, federations are complaining about the fact that golf still seems to have a bad image in politics."

Markus Söder, the Prime Minister of Bavaria, announced yesterday that clubs in that region will reopen on Monday, but at least one has paid the price for jumping the gun.

"One club in Bavaria opened on Tuesday and made it public before they were controlled by the police and have to pay a 25,000 Euros fine for one day and every other day they open before getting their final opening permission on Monday," added Himmel.

In Denmark, one of the first European countries to close its borders and schools, most courses only closed for a few weeks and safety rules are already starting to be relaxed.

"What happened here was that originally the federation recommended in mid-March that all clubs and courses closed," said Henrik Knudsen, an editor/commentator for Viasat Golf.

"But some clubs – and especially privately-owned courses – felt that this was taking things too far. They could easily comply with all government regulations and recommendations and still play.

"All clubhouses and practice facilities were closed, but they let you play under certain circumstances. Rakes were removed, flags could not touched and some places only allowed two-balls (and preferably with someone from your own household or your regular partner) and you had to leave as soon as you finished.

"Slowly these ‘rules’ have been relaxed, green fee players allowed, three and four-balls allowed, but still no rakes and flags can’t be touched (and some have the holes half filled with Styrofoam, so you don’t touch the edges).

"Initially, I had gone on tv and recommended that we followed the federations guidelines, but even they gave in, so now I am playing basically every other day.

"My club still has certain ‘Corona-rules’ – ie limited mats on the range, you can only have two tee times in the booking system due to high demand and you can only turn up 10 minutes before your tee time etc.

"My personal thoughts are that it is a great relief for us golfers. We are encouraged to go for walks while keeping some distance – and golf is perfect for just that, especially as we have had great spring weather.

"When I initially supported the shutdown, it was simply to avoid the usual ‘golf seems to be above the rest of us’ attitude from non-golfers. Fortunately, these ‘voices’ soon went quiet as there were more obvious things to ‘attack’."

In France, where the death toll from COVID-19 has been very similar to the UK's over the past few weeks, courses are reset to open on Monday.

"I really don't know what to expect about this future new reality," said Martin Coulomb, who writes for L'Equipe. "I'm sure the bad shots will still feel/look the same. But I don't know about the general atmosphere.

"I don't know if playing golf will be as easy/natural/relaxing as it used to be. The risk will always be there. I know golf officials in France are taking many concrete measures to limit the risk to its minimum. But it'll always be in my mind.

“The other thing about golf in France is that "we" still don't have very good press as a sport. So, we as golfers in general have to be very careful when the courses will reopen to apply strict rules against the virus. We'll have to show by example that golf is a sport that fully respects all the proper measures.”

In Spain, where the death toll has started to rise again, the courses on the island of La Gomera opened this week, with others around the country scheduled to be back in business on Monday as part of golf's first phase of coming out of lockdown.

"The Spanish Golf Federation thinks we will have around 100 of the 400 courses we have in the country reopen on Monday," said Alejandro Rodríguez, who writes for the ten-golf.com website. "Madrid and Barcelona present the worst situation due to the coronavirus and we don't know yet If they will be ready for phase 1."

In the US, where the number of deaths is now more than 70,000, courses are now reopen in all but three states, the odd ones out being Maryland, Massachusetts and Vermont.

Scott Michaux, a former Augusta Chronicle Sports Writer, played his first game with "safe golf" measures in place in Georgia last weekend.

“It's a pretty simple social distancing experience as long as everyone keeps their head in the game," he said. I played with my longtime friend, Todd Graff, and a retired couple we'd never met before.

"Everyone walked. Nobody high fives or fist bumps or shakes hands at introduction or end of round. No touching flagstick. No rakes in bunkers. No clubhouse access. You can ride carts, but everyone not in the same household must have separate carts.

"What I noticed most is that my game was a shambles and all the golf muscles had atrophied from lack of use. I was sore as hell when we finished and exhausted despite having been walking an average of 15 steps a day since January.

"It was good to be outside and doing something pleasant again. Maintaining physical and mental health in these strange times is as essential to everyone's well-being as social distancing is. Keep your eyes on the big picture and there's no reason golf can't peacefully coexist with virus mitigation practices in this era."

In Australia, where less than 100 deaths have been recorded, courses have now reopened after nearly a month of lockdown restrictions.

“The situation was a little daunting for me as I came home to Australia from my residence in the US," said New York-based Evin Priest, a golf reporter for Australian Associated Press.

"The government made all those arriving in Australia quarantine in their houses for two weeks. So, when I got out, I was itching to play golf, but my first trip to the course was really strange with all the restrictions.

“But, once people started to play, they became more comfortable and now my local course is so busy you have to book tee times a week in advance. My routine is nine holes every afternoon at about 3pm, chasing the sunset.

"It’s therapeutic and I’m not the only one who feels that way. There are lots of Australians trying golf as they have nothing else to do. It’s an escape from a subdued and depressing pandemic.”Courses in Scotland and the rest of the UK have been closed since the government lockdown guidelines were announced on 23 March.

Last week, the R&A revealed the measures that will be in place to deliver "safe golf" when the green light is given for golf courses to reopen, having submitted the proposals to the government.

The plan, which has been drafted along with other golfing bodies, covers five main areas: course set-up, before, during and after the round and Rules of Golf-related matters.

Clubs are now waiting to hear when they will be allowed to reopen, with Prime Minister Boris Johnson expected to reveal his lockdown exit plan on Sunday.

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