By Alistair Dunsmuir, The Golf Business

19 March 2020

Golf course superintendents share steps they’re taking to manage both their teams and their to-do lists in the wake of COVID-19.

The UK’s chief scientific adviser has responded to a health select committee question about playing golf during the coronavirus crisis by effectively saying it is an activity that is allowable.

Sir Patrick Vallance said: “It is OK – if you keep a distance.”

The question was put forward by Dean Russell MP. He asked: “Exercise is going to be key [especially for older people]. If someone wants to play golf, can they still do that if they’re not close together?”

Sir Patrick Vallance stated: “We’re not asking everyone to be completely isolated. The specific advice is to avoid close contact. A walk is OK if you keep a distance.”

Sir Patrick Vallance

A number of golf clubs have closed their clubhouses but kept their courses open so that golfers can gain the essential health benefits of moderate exercise at this extraordinary time while minimising the risk of becoming infected.

One golf club in London has issued a directive to all its golfers that they must not touch the flag on any of the holes, in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Epping Golf Course has said it has implemented other measures as well.

“We will attempt to make sure that scorecards’ registration and payment for drink and food are available through window service to avoid people having to come into the clubhouse if they don’t want to,” stated Epping’s owner, Neil Sjoberg.

Numerous golf events ranging from the Scottish Girls’ Open Championship to The Masters have been postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of golf clubs have also reported that the virus has hit at least one member, and in most cases the club has remained open.

In response, to assist the golf industry in the UK, BIGGA, the PGA, the GCMA and the R&A have produced this guideline document for UK golf clubs:

‘Your golf facility needs to have a senior group of managers who are in constant contact and can spring in to action if something happens. This should be your club manager / secretary, course manager / head greenkeeper and PGA professional and any other relevant department heads. During a period of heightened risk, meet on a daily basis and provide an update on staff absence, business pressures such as stock levels or machinery maintenance and other matters. When the crisis subsides, this group should continue to meet on a monthly basis to ensure policies are maintained and updated,’ it states.

‘Engage in a dialogue with the other golf clubs in your immediate area and discuss an action plan. If one of your clubs is forced to close, is there a reciprocal arrangement in place to allow members to play at a different facility?’

One golf club manager welcomed the document.

“That was very, very useful as it allowed us to sit down and work out some kind of battleplan,” Simon Payne, secretary at Cowglen in Scotland told The Herald.

“Up until then, I think people were maybe a bit blasé about this but when you consider the wider ramifications, they are huge.

“There are knock on effects for green fees, subscriptions, bookings, our suppliers, from diesel for machinery to drink in the bar. If bar staff or catering staff are off, then takings are down. It’s everything.

“The worst-case scenario is if the greenkeeping staff have to go into isolation, then the course doesn’t get maintained.

“The course is the number one thing for members. You can tell a volunteer how to lock the clubhouse but you can’t suddenly upskill someone to cut a green.

“We are coupling up with other clubs in the area with a kind of buddy system to help each other out just in case.

“Our course manager has a group of trusted friends at other courses so there will at least be a limited maintenance to keep things going should the worst happen.”

“People are handling pins, they are handling ball washers and rakes in bunkers. We started going through potential risks and they just grow and grow.

“Like a lot of clubs, the over-65s are a relatively large element here. Their health and well-being on our premises is paramount.

“The older golfers may now be considering just staying away and it will be interesting to monitor numbers going forward.

“While everybody has to take responsibility, we’ve just tried to do as much as possible to at least give members the confidence that we can operate as best we can.

“Many clubs are living hand to mouth. The impact of this could be hard to take for some.”

“I’ve been here for 30 years and the weather recently has been the worst I can remember in terms of getting out to play. But the addition of the coronavirus has made it a whole lot worse.

“It’s a minefield. We don’t know how long it will be like this for. The Beast from the East a couple of years ago was the first time we had ever closed the place down entirely. Nobody was on site, it just shut.

“But this virus is a different kettle of fish. It’s the unknown. When the snow melted, you knew we would be back. But who knows with this?”

A Scottish Golf spokesman added: “In these difficult times it is important to highlight the health benefits of golf as a sport that allows players to exercise outdoors in the fresh air where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is low,” in response to the release of this document.

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