Golf’s return at some Scottish clubs could be restricted to one game per week

Club managers are braced for tight restrictions as they prepare for easing of the shutdown

The manager of Gullane Golf Club, Gordon Simpson, is expecting a huge demand for playing slots once the shutdown is lifted and golfers are allowed back on the course. Picture: SNS.
The manager of Gullane Golf Club, Gordon Simpson, is expecting a huge demand for playing slots once the shutdown is lifted and golfers are allowed back on the course. Picture: SNS.

Golfers have been warned they could be limited to one round per week at the start once courses in Scotland reopen due to the expected high demand following the coronavirus closure.

In another message that will grab the attention of the country’s army of golfers, it is being predicted that some clubs are likely to limit play initially to single players and two-balls from the same household.

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The picture of how the club scene could be once the green light is given for courses in Scotland to reopen after being closed since the last week in March has been painted by two of the top club managers in the country.

David Roy, who holds that post at Crail Golfing Society, and Gordon Simpson, who runs the day-to-day affairs at Gullane, are still waiting to hear exactly what the government guidelines will be and when courses will reopen.

However, they are in agreement that golfers around the country are going to be faced with some restrictions at the outset that might not be met with approval but, nonetheless, will need to be followed in an attempt to create “safe golf”.

“I think it is safe to say there will be an excess of demand over supply when the courses reopen,” said Roy. “Therefore, do we say to the members: ‘you are only going to get one single game in the week?’

“Every single club will have a bundle of members who want to play every single day in the year. We can’t have a situation where the place is being hogged by a handful of members. So, do we say in the first week, ‘you are only getting one game’ and just be prepared for the flak from that?”

It was initially suggested by Karin Sharp, Scottish Golf’s chief operating officer, that play at first might be limited to single players and groups from the same household. The R&A plan submitted to the government made no reference to that, but Roy reckons some clubs could go down that route at first.

“Our feeling, and this comes from talking to as many people as possible at other local clubs, is that, regardless of what government restrictions come out, in the early phase we might insist on single players and two-balls from the same household,” he added.

“You wouldn’t want to have a situation where two players find themselves in the same group due to that being the only available time and a potential argument ensues because one of the players isn’t comfortable. It might be simpler in the first couple of weeks to say it’s single players only or two players from the same household.”

Even with three courses in operation, Simpson reckons restrictions are also likely to be in place at Gullane. “I believe that we will have to introduce limitations when we first get the go ahead to open up as there will be huge demand,” he said.

In Ireland, golf is set for a phased return on 18 May, starting with members living within 5km of their golf club before being extended to 10km on 
8 June then beyond 20km on 20 July.

“I’m not sure there are going to be travel restrictions in the UK,” said Roy. “But, if there are, my guess would be it is going to be broader than 5k. At the moment, we don’t have the same travel restrictions they have in Ireland.

“We’ve done our stats on membership numbers based on how many members live in the KY11 postcode. We’ve got 550 out of the 1400 playing members, with 400 who have an alternative place to play golf due to being a member of another club.

“That leaves us with potentially 500-600 members who are going to be inconvenienced by not getting a game. We would only be able to deal with that as and when we know more.”

A large chunk of Gullane’s membership live in and around Edinburgh, meaning either a 5km or 10km restriction would stop them from heading down the East Lothian coast if that sort of restriction was part of the UK plan.

“I prefer a postcode system,” admitted Simpson. “I feel a 5km boundary would be very limiting to many clubs and unrealistic for clubs to police.”

Greenkeepers have been advised to have their courses ready for reopening at very short notice, “perhaps even overnight”, by the British and International Greenkeepers Association (BIGGA).

“We feel that there’s going to be more than 24 hours,” said Roy, who has been in regular contact with his counterparts at other clubs in Fife, including Ladybank, Scotscraig and Lundin. “I know that happened for the lockdown and that caused a bit of grief. In fact, it was extremely stressful, but the opening up procedure is going to be vastly different.

“The stats, reports give you far better indications of what is going to happen. The gut feeling is that we will get a ‘soft’ message through the daily briefing from both (Prime Minister) Boris Johnson and (First Minister) Nicola Sturgeon to say this is what we feel might happen.

“I feel we will get more than 24 hours. Say it is Monday, 
25 May, I think we will find out on the Friday and that gives us enough time. We will have everything prepared. We’ll have the email ready to go and staff lined up. As long as we’ve got two days, I think we deliver that relatively smoothly.”

Courses have already reopened in Austria, Denmark, Germany and Norway in Europe, while only three states in the US still have a closure policy in place. In Germany, some courses have already been closed down again for failing to follow the safety rules aimed at delivering “safe golf”.

“We are lucky in many respects,” insisted Roy, who took part in the first of Scottish Golf’s webinars for members. “We can take our guide from Norway and Denmark,which are quite active and buoyant golfing populations.

“They discovered extremely quickly that there was a massive demand, which sort of caught them out. But, once it settled down, they had in place the player restrictions of how often you can play and who you can play with. That’s what we are formulating our current plans on.

“Nationally, as an industry, we have to make sure that we both toe the line and are seen to be doing the right thing. Whatever comes out from the government, it needs to be mandatory. We need to be told very strictly what the conditions are.”

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