Scottish golf clubs 'not stupid or careless' and clued-up for reopening

Golf clubs in Scotland are clued-up on what it will take to deliver "safe golf" once the green light is given for courses to reopen after being closed for five weeks due to the coronavirus chaos.

Directors at Swanston on the outskirts of Edinburgh have been gearing up for golf's return, with courses in the UK having been closed since 23 March. Picture: Swanston Golf
Directors at Swanston on the outskirts of Edinburgh have been gearing up for golf's return, with courses in the UK having been closed since 23 March. Picture: Swanston Golf

That was the message from a club manager today as the possibility of a return for golf edged closer after the R&A revealed the measures likely to be in place at courses throughout the UK.

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.

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The proposals include the removal of bunker rakes and ball retrievers, the covering up of drinking fountains and ball washers and the removal or covering up of benches and bins.

Swanston also plans to open its driving range and a club-fitting facility by adhering to social-distancing guidelines. Picture: Swanston Golf

Among other proposals are that flagsticks should not be touched and a hole liner should be used to prevent balls from dropping below the surface of greens.

Tee times would be subject to a booking system with a minimum of ten-minute intervals with practice areas remaining closed unless safe sanitising practices can be guaranteed.

The maximum number of golfers in a group per tee time is to be confirmed by the club/facility and must be in accordance with any government requirements.

"How each golf club decides to interpret the lifting of the restrictions should be left to the golf clubs," said Mike Robson, the club manager and secretary at Swanston Golf Club on the outskirts of Edinburgh.

"We’re not stupid or careless and the safety of our members and any visitors is our first priority, as it will be with all clubs.

"At the end of the day, it’s simple common sense. The social distancing is now nothing new and, prior to the lockdown, we had introduced the majority of recommendations with regards to rakes, bins, holes and flagsticks."

It had been hinted that a phased return would start with single golfers and household groups, but that doesn't appear to be the case.

"Playing as a single is a joke - that’s six players per hour and in 10 hours only 60 players could play," added Robson.

"Golf is played for the social side more than the competitive edge, the majority of golfers in the UK don’t have a handicap and it’s pretty antisocial having to play on your own.

"I see no harm in groups of more than two playing adhering to the basic social distancing rule - there’s plenty room on a golf course."

The plan proposes that clubhouses would remain closed other than to provide essential facilities such as toilets while trolleys and carts would not be available for hire unless safe sanitising practices can be guaranteed.

Golfers will be reminded to remain two metres apart at all times and use their feet to smooth over bunkers in the absence of rakes.

It is recommended that non-competition play is used during the initial period of golf being played, and that stroke play competitions involving players in different groups are avoided.

"Medals/Stablefords and competitive golf will be brought back as soon as practical," said Robson, a well-kent face in the Lothians.

"However, until raised hole cups are not required, I cannot see any scores counting for handicap purposes.

"The report recommends practice areas should remain closed. We have plans to open our new academy/range and ensuring social distancing is adhered to.

"We are also working closely with Scott Gourlay to ensure his club-fitting business can safely open adjacent to the range."

It seems that an initial proposal for pro shops or starters buildings to open but with only one golfer at a time being allowed access has been dropped from the recommendations sent to the government.

Robson is pleased, though, that golfers will be allowed to use their own buggies and golf carts, saying: "Many older and less able golfers will not be able to play at all if that had not been the case.

"We have probably 10 older members who simply could not play without a buggy - and half of them have their own electric buggy."

The big question now is when exactly will courses reopen, with the chairman of the UK Parliament's All-Party Group for Golf, North Warwickshire MP Craig Tracey, saying the "nature of the game means it can, and should return quickly".

Robson said: "Our facilities will be ready to use immediately the restrictions are eased as our greenkeepers have done an excellent job during the crisis and the extremely dry period recently.

"Behind the scenes, myself and fellow directors are preparing for the day we can return to golf with regards to staffing, “policing”, access to pro shop, sanitise points, tee booking and locker room access.

"All we need now is a date from, I suppose First Minister Nicola Sturgeon, as I believe Scotland can differ from the rest of the UK. However, I’m sure the date will be applicable to all countries and most golf clubs and officials will have a similar plan to ours."

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