Martin Dempster: Golf clubs have a real opportunity to shape bright new future for game

Many clubs have attracted new members as other sports are off limits due to the pandemic

Brilliant sunshine greeted the return to action as play resumed at Luffness Golf Club  in East Lothian at the weekend. Picture: SNS.
Brilliant sunshine greeted the return to action as play resumed at Luffness Golf Club in East Lothian at the weekend. Picture: SNS.

Credit where credit is due. Scottish Golf’s decision to recommend two balls as the main format for the sport resuming after being shut down for more than nine weeks due to the Covid-19 pandemic appears to be working a treat.

Put it this way, the two rounds 
I’ve been lucky to get in since the courses reopened around the country on Friday have easily been the best in terms of seeing a golf course flowing how it should for a long time.

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One of those rounds was in the morning; the other in the afternoon. The first took two hours 
45 minutes, which included a short delay for a TV interview on the 17th tee, and the second was five minutes quicker.

On both occasions, we never even came close to finding ourselves on the same tee with the group in front and it was the same with the group behind. In a nutshell, the guidelines recommended by the governing body and then implemented by the clubs did exactly what was needed.

Without a shadow of doubt, being out on the golf course was the safest I have felt in any outdoor environment other than my back garden since the world felt as though it had been turned upside down.

There is still a nervousness about being in a supermarket, either inside or out, and seeing someone wearing a face mask or gloves and also getting uncomfortably close to someone who doesn’t seem to bother about social distancing.

In contrast, that precious time on the golf course brought back a welcome bit of normality, even though there was no hanging about the club, either before or after the round, and things may be slightly different out on the course with funky contraptions to retrieve balls from the hole without touching the flagstick and no rakes in the bunkers.

It had been feared that only single players might be permitted at the start in Scotland, but there would have been absolutely no need for that given that social distancing almost happens naturally out on a golf course.

Yes, the odd person might not feel entirely comfortable at the moment being in the company of someone from another household, but, for most, the chance to be reunited with a golfing buddy is being enjoyed the length and breadth of the country.

By the looks of things, the pace of play at most courses was along the lines of what we enjoyed at Aberdour. “We had 202 golfers at Crail today,” reported David Roy, the club manager at Crail Golfing Society, of Friday’s traffic along the Fife coast, “and the last round was completed in exactly three hours. Just shows you what can be done with no course furniture (ball washers, seats etc are out of commission for the time being) and two balls most of the day.”

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It begs the question, of course, about the current situation being an opportunity for clubs to do something that can have a real impact in terms of tackling the game’s biggest problem – slow play – when the green light is given for three and four balls to resume, as is now the case south of the Border.

That will happen soon enough in Scotland and, yes, of course, it’s what will not only make the majority of members happy as they can start getting back out again in their normal groups but also help 
clubs as pressure is eased on tee sheets.

However, here’s hoping that some of those clubs perhaps introduce, for example, two separate windows in a day – two hours at the start, say, and then two hours in the afternoon - when only two balls are allowed.

Make no mistake, golf has been presented with an unexpected opportunity out of an unfortunate set of circumstances. Lots of clubs have attracted new members, which, let’s face it, probably wouldn’t have happened if football, in particular, but also other pastimes hadn’t been shut down.

It’s a chance that needs to be grasped with both hands, so let’s see clubs use what is happening right now to shape the future of the game, one that shows the sport in a better light than has often been portrayed in recent years.

Admittedly helped by some glorious golfing weather over the past few days, clubs have reopened to golfers with smiles on their faces, and I know I am not alone in sensing a new positive vibe out on the golf course.

“There is a great buzz at the club just now,” observed Bob MacIntyre, the Scottish No 1, of how he has found things at Glencruitten in Oban over the past few days. “That is great to see and I just hope it 
continues.”

Hear, hear.

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