It is a question on the tip of the tongues of all golfers in the region: When will golf courses reopen? Golf has been off the agenda since lockdown begin once again on January 5, and there has been little given away as to when those “course closed” signs can be taken down.
While courses in Scotland have remained open and play permitted in twoballs only, golfers in England, Wales and Northern Ireland have been well and truly out of luck.
England Golf had considered lobbying parliament to allow its member courses to reopen safely, just as fishing was made possible as a form of exercise. But ultimately chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson vowed to adhere to the stay at home guidelines and close all courses.
A petition gathered more than 100,000 signatures to ensure the reopening of courses was debated in parliament, but the wait goes on. And it seems that the golf equipment can remain packed away for some while yet with the likelihood it will be March at the earliest before the sport can resume.
It was announced at Prime Minister’s Questions on Wednesday, January 27, that schools will likely remain closed until March 8. Golf courses have little chance of returning before that date as the government battle to keep the coronavirus pandemic under control.
The closest to a likely reopening date came when Boris Johnson said: “we will be able to populate the diary ahead with some more milestones”. The PM was committing to very little with that statement to parliament.
But is there hope in the form of a 13-page document released by the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf? The report has been sent to Johnson and his government in a bid to get the rules relaxed on golfing.
The report, which includes contributions from Professor Charlie Foster – an advisor to the chief medical officers in the UK – and the European Tour’s chief medical officer Dr Andrew Murray, has provided a glimmer of hope for golfers up and down the country.
The report says: “Overall, golf has the same health benefits as walking, cycling and running and, if anything, with the uncrowded nature of courses and strict protocols provided, risk of transmission during golf is lower than these other health enhancing physical activities.
“If scientific evidence is to be applied logically and consistently, golf should be permitted to return during the current phase of national lockdown (commencing 4 January 2021), incorporating enhanced protocols appropriate for the new variant described in this paper.
“In lockdown conditions golf can be played within a household group, or with two adults from different households. At lower COVID-19 alert levels (Tier 1-4) golf can be played safely within the Rule of Six (fourball). Clubhouse, retail, and hospitality facilities, as predominantly indoor offerings are, and should be subject to additional restrictions at this point in the pandemic.”
Dr Murray added: “Regular physical activity is one of the best things you can do for your health adding years to life, and having many mental and physical health benefits, be that through – for example – walking, cycling, running or golf.
“Golf’s careful planning, and compliance with COVID-19 tiers and regulation means its level of transmission from playing is likely to be extremely low, much lower than indoor space, or more populated outdoor areas.
“This is supported by the various scientific research the paper cites and I encourage those in SAGE and in government to review those as I am sure they will conclude that golf is similar to walking, running and cycling in being beneficial, and is safe to play with the relevant protocols in place.”
What does that mean for the golf courses of the region? Very little, unless the government and SAGE are willing to alter their current strategy.
It seems that until the R rate falls and the pressure on the NHS and hospitals eases, golf courses remain closed. And golfers face another month or more before dusting those clubs off once again.