A leaked report, believed to have been prepared by the R&A, has outlined what measures need to be taken in order for golf to safely resume following its coronavirus-enforced hiatus.
The sport has been on pause in the UK since March 23, when the government announced tighter restrictions on public behaviour and movement with a view to containing the spread of Covid-19.
Now, though, it appears that plans are being drawn up for the sport – at grassroots level – to return.
bunkered.co.uk has seen a “confidential draft” of a document apparently written by the game’s governing body, entitled “Playing Golf And Adhering To Covid-19 Regulations in the UK”.
It states: “When the government decides it is safe to begin lifting or loosening restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hoped that golf will be one of the sports which will be deemed safe and practical for people to play as they look to enjoy the health benefits of fresh air and exercise in a natural environment.
“It is vital that, in beginning to return to normal life and activities, people do not place themselves at further unnecessary risk. The R&A has carefully considered the social distancing restrictions that are likely to remain in force and devised a set of temporary provisions which will ensure that people can play golf while continuing to observe these restrictions.”
The document goes on to say that these temporary provisions will ensure that human contact with golf course equipment, such as rakes and flagsticks, is avoided and that all golfers remain at least two metres apart, even if they belong to the same household.
The policies have been divided into five categories: Course Set Up; Before the Round; During the Round; After the Round; and Rules of Golf Related Matters.
On the point of course set up, all rakes and ball retrievers are to be removed and ball washers and drinking fountains must be covered. Benches and bins should also be removed, covered or sign-posted in such a way that players don’t touch them, with all other removable items – with the exception of stakes defining areas of the course – removed, too. On-course toilets and shelters are to be closed.
Flagsticks will be allowed but it is “strongly recommended” that a sign is put on it stating that it must not be touched. It will be at the discretion of the committee to impose a local rule banning touching of the flagsticks, which may be punishable by a penalty.
Clubs are also encouraged to “use a method of inserting the hole liner so all of the ball does not fall below the surface of the putting green and can be easily retrieved by handling the ball only.
Practice areas, including practice nets and practice putting greens, must be closed unless safe sanitising practices can be guaranteed..
Clubs will be required to have a booking system for tee times and players will be expected to make bookings in advance. It will not be permissible to turn up to play without a pre-booked tee time.
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, whilst play should be staggered at a minimum of ten-minute intervals.
Clubhouses are to remain closed other than for some limited essential access (toilets and such like) and players are advised to arrive ready to play, as much as possible. It is recommended that they don't get out of their cars to get their clubs until 15 minutes before their tee time and must adhere to social distancing in the car park.
Pro shops or starters building may open but only one golfer at a time will be allowed access. Hiring carts, trolleys or other items will not be allowed and caddies will not be permitted.
During the round, players must stay at least two metres apart when walking to the ball, searching for lost balls and playing shots. Stray balls must not be touched so players are required to make sure their ball is clearly identifiable, no matter the lie.
With no bunkers on the course, players will be expected to “make their very best efforts” to smooth the sand using their clubs and feet. In the event that this measure doesn’t work, committees will be allowed to introduce preferred lies in bunkers and provide that a player may place a ball in the sand within one club-length of the original spot and not nearer to the hole.
In both matchplay and strokeplay, it is recommended that the first player to putt does so continuously until his/her ball is holed or their next stroke conceded.
After the round, players must not shake hands and should maintain the two-metre distance from each other. They must then leave the course and club immediately.
The document further states that it is “strongly recommended” that friendly matchplay is favoured during that period and that strokeplay competitions involving players in different groups is avoided. In the event that any competitive strokeplay is played, a method of scoring is be implemented that does not require any handling or exchanging of scorecards. In this instance, committees may choose to allow methods of scoring that do not strictly comply with Rule 3.3b.
For example, players may be allowed to enter their own scores; it will not be necessary to have a marker physically certify the player’s hole scores but some form of verbal certification should take place; and it will not be necessary to physically return a scorecard to the committee provided they can accept the scores in another way. This may include emailing or texting scores to the committee.
Clubs will be required to consult their relevant handicapping authority as to whether scores using any of the above practices will be acceptable for handicapping purposes.
The contents of this report come hot on the heels of the chairman of the UK Parliament’s All-Party Group for Golf calling for courses to be allowed to re-open.
North Warwickshire MP Craig Tracey told The Golf Business: “The initial challenges with lockdown meant golf had to close in Britain but the nature of the game means it can, and should, return quickly provided there are steps taken by all involved to maintain social distancing and to meet any other government instruction.”
•• Additional reporting by Bryce Ritchie.