It didn’t go according to plan for everyone. After taking a deep breath following three lovely practice swings, a six-handicapper at Old Ranfurly in Renfrewshire returned to golf with an embarrassing fresh air shot that was greeted with howls of laughter by his playing partner and those in the next group behind the first tee.
Overall, though, it was a successful reopening for the 550-odd courses in Scotland following a nine-week closure due to the coronavirus. From tour pros such as Paul Lawrie, Stephen Gallacher and Bob MacIntyre to high-handicap amateurs, it was a joyous feeling to be back out on tees, fairways and greens.
“Really good to get out on the course,” said major winner Lawrie of joining his oldest son, Craig, and his nephew, Sean, for nine holes in the morning at the Paul Lawrie Golf Centre on the outskirts of Aberdeen before heading out with Craig for 18 holes at Royal Aberdeen in the afternoon.
It was a nine-hole restart for Gallacher, too, at Kingsfield Golf Centre, a short drive from his house on the fringes of Linlithgow. “It was great to be back hitting off grass,” he admitted, having been limited to practising on a mat until now.
At courses the length and breadth of the country, tee times had been snapped up as soon as they were made available on booking systems when it became apparent that golf was set to be among the outdoor activities being included by First Minister Nicola Sturgeon in phase one of the easing of lockdown restrictions.
In short, supply outstripped demand, with some club members having to wait until today, tomorrow or some time soon to get back out, but, for the lucky ones, it was a day to cherish, helped by the fact they enjoyed glorious golfing conditions.
First to find that out as they led the way by teeing off at 5.30am at Aberdour on the Fife coast were Andrew Hubble and his son-in-law, Marcus Kelman. “Stress”, said Hubble of the emotion he felt at having to be up for that early start. “Pride”, he added of being afforded the opportunity to start golf in Scotland again. “Joy”, he confessed of standing on the panoramic first tee at Aberdour on such a day. “Fear,” he declared of hoping he’d manage to get the ball airborne after being out of action for so long.
Kelman said it felt “surreal” being back out on a golf course. He also said social distancing had not been a problem due to him struggling to hit fairways. “I also regret not practising my putting at home nearly as much as I could have while in lockdown,” he added at the end of an enjoyable round completed in under three hours.
Along the coast, the new Clive Clark-designed Dumbarnie Links between Leven and Elie opened a fortnight later than scheduled, with the honour of hitting the first shot being handed to Malcolm Campbell, a respected golf journalist who lives nearby in Lower Largo.
“It was a dream come true for me,” he declared, “having been trying to get a course built here for 20 years after coming across 400 acres of virgin links land when out on a walk along the old railway line with my wife.
“I honestly didn’t think I was going to live to see it opening, far less me hitting a miserable opening shot, and it is so sad that Clive [the former Ryder Cup player is based in the US] couldn’t be here on this beautiful day as this is his masterpiece. It is a great asset to Scotland and a great asset to the local community.”
Most courses maintained a flow of players throughout the day and it will be the same again over the coming days. So far, so good was the verdict from Scottish Golf. “What a day,” said Karin Sharp, the governing body’s chief operating officer. “We really couldn’t have asked for better weather for the return of golf in Scotland. Over the last few days, it has been fantastic to see the anticipation building, with many wonderful photographs and videos of courses ready for play. The greenkeepers and volunteers the length and breadth of the country are to be congratulated for their hard work, under essential maintenance guidelines in preparing for golfers to return.
“The enthusiasm and excitement to be back has been great to see and I am sure there were many golfers up with the lark this morning and heading out for a game. I was one of the lucky golfers who snagged an early tee time, I was first out at my club at 6am this morning and played a most enjoyable ten holes in the sunshine and was home long before 8am ready for a day’s work!
“To everyone who supports the game at a local club, from employees, committee members and volunteers, I applaud you for the significant effort that has been put in to get your club ready for opening today, employing the appropriate measures and updating your membership on the rules you have put in place to maintain the safe return to golf.
“The phase one guidelines have given the sport the early opportunity to recommence and we thank you for embracing these. Health remains the priority and we can’t take our eye off the ball in this early stage, so please keep playing your part and keep the golf course a safe place for us all to continue enjoying.”
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