Martin Dempster: Teasing times for Scottish golfers but too early for courses to reopen

Pictures flooding social media of courses looking resplendent are making this an even more frustrating period

Fortrose & Rosemarkie in all its glory as it basks in the spring sunshine.

What’s not helping, either, is social media being flooded with photographs of courses around the country looking resplendent. Taken either by greenkeepers as they carry out essential maintenance or club managers, they are merely having a teasing effect at the moment as golf clubs lie closed due to the ongoing threat caused by COVID-19.

Mike MacDonald, the switched-on and extremely welcoming club manager at Fortrose & Rosemarkie, posted a couple of videos on Twitter over the weekend showing the Black Isle course, with the gorse starting to bloom, in its full glory. “Just whetting our appetites,” said one person on seeing those clips, while another jokingly declared: “Please, I can’t take any more!”

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Many felt the same, albeit in a totally different tone, about another short video that popped up on social media last week, this one showing what appeared to be a man and his son kicking a football back and forward in the middle of a green at West Kilbride on the Ayrshire coast as three others stood at the side and watched.

Equally infuriating was hearing a similar story about someone thinking it was acceptable to use the 18th green on the Championship Course at Carnoustie to do what was described as a “Joe Wicks’ training session”. Seriously? He was lucky, surely, not to have ended up where Jean Van de Velde wrote himself into folklore in the Barry Burn.

Four weeks into lockdown, it is no surprise to be hearing a good few people starting to ask if serious consideration should be given to those guidelines being relaxed in order to allow golf to be acceptable as a form of our permitted daily exercise. Wisconsin, where the Ryder Cup is due to be played in September, is allowing its courses to re-open later this week with restrictions in place, while Golf Australia announced on Friday that it is now satisfied that “golf can be played at minimal risk” under strict and specific safety protocols.

Pete Smith, a former Turnhouse member, moved to Australia in 2006 and currently plays his golf at Kogarah Golf Club in Sydney. There, in addition to social distancing, rakes being removed from bunkers and pieces of polyethylene foam stopping balls dropping into the bottom of holes, members have to arrive on a “just-in-time basis”, not more than 15 minutes before a booked round, then leave the club immediately afterwards. Under strict guidelines outlined by New South Wales Public Health officials, clubs face possible fines of up to Aus $55,000 for any breach of the protocols.

“Here, the majority of golf is played in competitions, and our Wednesday and Thursday competitions are running as normal,” Smith told me. “We play in twos and tee-time intervals are a bit longer than usual. I still miss the chance to go and have a beer and a chat with my playing group at the end of the round, and other members, but being able to get out and play golf is definitely a highlight of the week when you are stuck indoors all day!

“I have not observed anyone break the social-distancing rules – and they are really easy to maintain on the golf course. My view here is golf provides a great source of exercise for many. For our older members, golf is often their main source of social interaction during the week and, whilst they can’t meet with all of their friends, they can at least enjoy company at a time that can be lonely for many people.”

Fellow Scot Craig Morrison, who has been in Perth since 2010 and is a member at Royal Perth, as well as Kilmacolm back home, is taking a different view despite golf also being an option for him at the moment. “There’s nothing better than getting on the course with your mates,” he admitted. “However, I haven’t played since Christmas and most of my regular playing partners, like me, have decided not to partake for the time being.”

Is it time for golf to be permitted again in Scotland? In my opinion, no. We are still in the grip of a pandemic, and as long as that daily exercise is only for an hour, there seems no point, even though a two-ball could get in a decent few holes in that time. Reopening courses would mean more people jumping back in cars and starting to travel around again. With another three-week lockdown having just been implemented, it’s too early for that.

Let’s be patient because there is a good chance that golf could well be something that is indeed part of a phased return to normality. Just don’t expect it to be what we were used to before the world was turned upside down. It goes without saying, of course, that you’ll need to look out those waterproofs because we all know what’s going to happen when the courses are open again…

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