"Golf is returning - let's not screw this up!"

Golf Balls

Assuming everything goes to plan, this Friday won’t be day No.67 without golf in Scotland, as it might otherwise have been.

Instead, it will be day No.1 of a new, post-lockdown world that the sport and those of us who play it have to learn to navigate.

After more than two months of being unable to play, there is palpable excitement about the drawbridge being lowered and golf being allowed to resume.

It will also, hopefully, provide a welcome demarcation from the increasingly hostile indignation that courses were ever closed in the first place. This isn’t a point I have any great desire to labour other than to say I cringed watching many people impatiently demand the right to play golf at a time when their neighbours were unable to attend loved-ones’ funerals.

I understand the frustration but the manner in which many tried to make their point lacked class and compassion. In the bigger (and frankly more important) picture, two months without golf is really no sacrifice at all.

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The sport’s return is, nevertheless, exciting. If nothing else, it is a glimmer of hope that normalcy – whatever that might look like – is somewhere out in front and not in our rearview mirror.

Over the last 16 years, I have written extensively about the things I like about golf, as well as the things I don’t. Both stem from the same place: a genuine love for the game.

I love it even when I hate it. It’s like a Rubik’s Cube but with 60 sides, not six.

Aside from its irreconcilable challenge (isn’t that what keeps us coming back for more?), I also believe in golf’s many oft-recited qualities. You’re no doubt familiar with them but the list includes the positive physical and mental health benefits it delivers; the friendships it fosters; the passion it stirs; the escape it offers.

It’s a wonderful game, particularly if you’re fortunate enough to share a birthplace with it. I’ve often argued that football is Scotland’s national obsession but golf is our national sport.

However, with all of these perks and privileges comes responsibility, and never more so than this Friday.

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Golf has been chosen by the Scottish Government to be one of the sports that helps to lead the nation out of the shadows cast by coronavirus. Appropriately, a number of restrictions will remain in place and they will require golf’s return to be more cautious than many would like it to be.

My plea, for what it’s worth, is this: please don’t mess this up.

Think of Friday like being allowed to trade a small, locked cell for an open, darkened room. It would be foolish to run into it at full tilt. Who knows what you might collide with or what damage your reckless enthusiasm might do. A more calculated approach is to allow your eyes time to adjust to the darkness, then tailor your behaviour accordingly. That’s where we’re at with golf right now. We’re being given an opportunity adapt and contribute to a ‘new normal’.

Inevitably, there will be a lot of people looking on to see how we, as a sport, respond. It’s sad to say but many will be willing us to fail, waiting and hoping for us to break the rules, to behave like the selfish ignoramuses they mistakenly believe us to be.

Prove them wrong.

Anything less wouldn’t just be terrible for the sport’s reputation, it could also hasten our return to March 23.

Nobody likes to be patronised and I promise you that’s not my intention. It's truly not. I have no doubt whatsoever that 99% of golfers and golf clubs will follow the guidance that has been issued and do so responsibly.

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It’s the other 1% I’m worried about. The 1% who refuse to repair divots and pitch marks. The 1% who sneered at the picture of the chap in England playing golf with a face-mask on the other week. The 1% who think that the courses should never have been shut in the first place and that doing so was nothing more than "political games".

It only takes one match to burn a thousand trees. Don’t let it happen.

There is nothing to lose from sticking to the guidance provided to us. Genuinely. All we are required to do is stay patient and play our part. It’s not that big an ask.

With that said, here’s wishing you nothing but straight drives, holed putts and good health on Friday and beyond. 

I look forward to seeing you out there – from a safe distance, of course.

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