The wait is almost over. Subject to confirmation from First Minister Nicola Sturgeon on Thursday, golf courses in Scotland will reopen on Friday after being closed due to the coronavirus lockdown restrictions since 23 March.
From early morning – very early in the case of one club, which is opening at 5.30am – until late evening, the majority of the 550-odd courses in the country will be back being used by golfers rather than walkers, runners and cyclists for daily exercise.
Helped by a week’s notice, clubs the length and breadth of Scotland have been able to get themselves ready for one of the most eagerly-awaited days in the game’s long history in its cradle, with demand for tee times set to see most of those venues operating at 100 per cent available capacity.
Limited numbers due to the guidelines determining that the majority of those tee times will be two balls – three balls and four balls are normally the more common format – mean that some members have suffered disappointment in trying to secure a tee time for the reopening day, but clubs are doing their best to try and keep as many people as possible happy.
That is being achieved at both Stirling and Turnhouse, for example, by using two loops of nine holes rather than the normal full 18 most clubs will have in operation. “We’ve managed to use ten-minute intervals on the two loops, which equates to five-minute intervals on our booking system,” said Stirling professional Kenny Monaghan of that decision. “It’s worked great and our members have fully supported it, as evidenced by the fact we are full from 7am until 8pm on Friday and Saturday. The demand is definitely there for getting back out this weekend.”
Concurring, Turnhouse general manager David Gemmell said: “Our tee sheet runs eight days in advance, so, when we opened it up on Sunday, the members had eight choices – four days with two nines per day. It has really helped and we have had no one complain that they couldn’t get a game.”
The demand for tee times is encapsulated by how quickly they were snapped up by members at Murrayfield in the heart of Edinburgh. “I switched on the online booking at 11.59 on Tuesday,” said pro Jonnie Cliff. “By 1201, almost every time on Friday and Saturday from 0800 to 1900 was booked.”
Even with three courses, Gullane, with a membership of around 900, is facing a challenge to satisfy the demand from people to get back out at the two-time Scottish Open venue. “Bookings for all three courses opened at 9am on Tuesday and to say we were inundated would be an understatement,” said secretary Gordon Simpson. “We have introduced two ball only on all three courses with ten-minute intervals and the weekend was virtually full within a couple of hours, so we will have over 200 golfers per day from Friday onwards. This will be reviewed on a regular basis and I am sure we will increase the usage as things settle down.”
Some clubs are restricting the number of times people can play at the start in a bid to ensure everyone is getting a chance to get out in the first week. “The restrictions we have adopted are to limit players to two games a week,” said David Orr, the pro at Whitecraigs in the south side of Glasgow. “We also have course marshals out over the next few weeks to monitor the players and their pace of play, which I think is vital just now, and also to make sure that all the government guidelines are adhered to.”
At opposite ends of the country, the excitement is growing about golfers being back out at The Hirsel, close to the English border in Coldstream, and Golspie in the Highlands. “It’s been a busy few days since the announcement about golfs welcome return in Scotland,” said Daniel Wood, The Hirsel pro. “It’s certainly created a buzz surrounding golf again and we are delighted to have had six new adult members join over the weekend, which is a welcome addition.”
Alasdair MacDougall, Golspie’s treasurer cum secretary, said the club is “delighted” to be welcoming its members back and added: “We are going to try and attract new members, starting with local young people, male and female. Plenty young folk in Golspie play football but not golf – in my day it was both! We must attract these people, and there are good early signs with other sporting activities still restricted.”
Around the country, membership inquiries are mainly coming from the so-called nomadic golfers at a time when most clubs are restricting play to members only, though some have been from people now wanting to take up the sport after enjoying the surroundings from those daily walks, runs and cycles.
“We’ve had an upsurge in membership enquiries,” said Uphall treasurer Bill Mackintosh, “which we can only put down to the realisation that daily fee golf is going to be hard to find for a while (and potentially more expensive than it has been in recent years). It’s our job to make sure any new members are looked after and don’t drift away once we get back to something approaching normality.”
That 5.30am start will be at Aberdour, where club captain Steve David will be on hand to see the first two-ball underway there, while an 8am start over on the other side of the Firth of Forth at Swanston will be greeted by the sound of bagpipes. With the sun set to shine, everything is set up for Scottish golf’s return and one club manager is confident the country’s golfers will do the nation proud in the quest to deliver “safe golf”.
“Golf clubs are often viewed as hidebound by arcane rules and traditions, and such attitudes are seen as barriers to progress, preventing the golf industry from embracing a more relaxed view of the world,” said David Roy, manager at Crail Golfing Society. “However, the deep-seated and highly-valued culture of honesty, courtesy and honour is worthy of the highest praise in such times.”
Enjoy being back out on those courses!
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