Government relaxes Corona restrictions on outdoor sports
Wednesday, 13th May 2020 was a memorable day for golfers in England. For the first time in eight weeks, thousands of golfers up and down the country could finally escape the ‘Coronavirus lockdown’ and leave their homes to play golf once more.
Golf’s governing bodies have been working closely to create protocols to make golf safe to play during the Coronavirus pandemic. Last week, the UK Government relaxed a number of the restrictions such as the playing of some outdoor sports. Golf is among them. Yes, recreational golf can begin again.
Well, at least in England. The First Ministers of Scotland, Wales and Northern Ireland are yet to follow Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s lead. Later this month the other nations are expected to follow. There are rumours of plans to restart a handful of professional tournaments but then on a low-key basis without a mass of golf fans in attendance.
Courses may have been closed for a couple of months but greenkeepers have been working hard to keep them in tip-top condition ready for the restart of the season. However, it is not quite business as usual.
Keeping a safe distance while playing golf
Fortunately for golfers, ‘social distancing’ is pretty easy when playing golf. However, the traditional golfer will just have to forget about his friendly Sunday morning fourball for a while. The UK Government’s newly issued relaxed rules indicate that people can now exercise as much as they wish but only with members of their own household or with one person from another household. This means that golfers in England will be allowed to play on their own or with one other person, for the time being. It is also permissible to play a round of golf with the family with whom they live or with people from their own household as long as everyone respects the Corona ‘safe golf’ measures.
In the interest of safe-distancing – one of the key measures introduced to help prevent the spread of the deadly COVID-19 virus – a number of temporary new rules and etiquette are now in place on the golf course. In effect, the new golf rules of 2019 have gone a few, even more extreme, steps further.
How to play golf safely and still have fun
Golf clubs are to encourage ‘social matchplay’ rather than strokeplay competitions. And that is a good move. It’s quicker and it’s fun. Yes, you can’t beat a good old head-to-head battle – but then 2 metres apart, of course.
The usual practice of swapping scorecards is not allowed. And, it goes without saying, naturally, that shaking hands, kissing, victory hugs, high-fives, knocking knuckles or elbow clicking are simply now ‘not done’ on the golf course.
By the way, just in case travel abroad opens up in the coming weeks, it’s handy to know that the ‘two metre’ safe distancing guideline in the UK is not the same in Europe. In Holland, for example, safe distancing means one and a half metres apart. Incidentally, the Dutch government lifted its ban on golf two days earlier on Monday, 11th May.
The new Coronavirus golf rules state that the flag must remain in the hole at all times. Indeed, it is actually now prohibited to touch the flagstick! As we all know, the basic principle of golf is to get the ball into the hole in as few strokes as possible. But during Corona times, the ball won’t actually be falling to the bottom of the hole. Golf clubs will be taking measures, either with a raised cup or by adding foam into the hole, to ensure that the ball remains partly above ground. The idea is to reduce the risk of players passing on the highly-contagious COVID-19 virus through constant contact with the hole and flagstick.
No rakes, ball cleaners or benches
The lazy golfer will like the next rule change. There is no need to smooth the sand in a bunker with a rake … because there aren’t any! (Rakes, not bunkers!) Yes, rakes also pose a risk to the health of golfers. Instead of raking the bunker you’re asked to smooth the sand with your feet or a club.
The 19th hole is ‘out of bounds’. So I’m afraid you won’t be able to drown your sorrows in the clubhouse restaurant and bar after a poor round, although some terraces may be open where sufficient safe distancing can be maintained.
As changing rooms remain closed for the time being, it is now permitted to put your shoes on in the car park. Ooh, traditionalists will have to turn a blind eye to this misdemeanour!
Some clubs will be adding a few extra minutes between tee-times as an additional safe-distancing measure and so regulate the flow of players. Likewise, golfers are requested to arrive no more than 15 minutes before their start time which should be booked on-line wherever possible, and then leave the club promptly after completing their round.
As I write, news has come in that Northern Ireland is also relaxing some of its Corona safety measures with immediate effect. Outdoor sports such as golf and tennis may now begin again. In Ireland too. Wales is scheduled to follow suit on the 18th of May. Now that’s terrific news for golfers! Interestingly though, Scotland, ‘The Home of Golf’, has chosen not to relax its ban on outdoor sports. Or at least, not yet. The First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is expected to maintain the restriction until the end of May.
In the interest of everyone’s safety, it’s a good idea to check out the rules which apply at your local golf club, before setting off for your round of well-earned freedom. By the way, driving ranges may well not be open if not considered Corona safe for golfers.
Stepping forward out of lockdown
These new rules and etiquette could well take some getting used to, but be patient – at least we’re out and about in the fresh air and able to play golf! Now that is one mighty step forward out of the lockdown.
With many clubs, quite rightly, giving priority to their own members when booking a start-time, this is perhaps a good moment to reconsider your choice of being a ‘free golfer’. There is a chance that if courses are really busy, clubs may choose for a ‘Members Only’ policy for the first few weeks or longer and may not accept green fee players.
Remember golf courses have already had a tough season coping with closures due to the floods at the beginning of 2020 and now the Coronavirus lockdown. They deserve your support and would welcome you as a valued new member with open arms – at a distance of two metres, of course!
We’re still not out of the woods, but with care and attention life may well get back to a sort of normality sometime soon. Until then, keep your distance, stay healthy and count your blessings!
FEATURED PHOTOGRAPHS: Seaford Head GC and (below) Crowborough Beacon GC in East Sussex. (Archive) © Photography by Golfing Inspirations.