Golfers return to the fairways

Golfers returned to the fairways on Tuesday for the first time in five weeks, and for those hardy souls who put up with the cold and damp of winter it was a welcome return.  While many golfers put away the clubs, the hardy winter golfers will have been looking forward to the re-opening of courses.

There was widescale disappointment in late October as courses were closed as part of the level five measures.  Pleas that golf, as a naturally socially distanced sport could continue went unheard.  Although golf like some other sports was deemed low risk, it seemed that the ban on non-essential travel took priority.  Although disappointed, most golfers looked forward to a re-opening before Christmas, and that was confirmed last week.  When the announcement came on Thursday, the next question was when timesheets would open.  Demand was high for tee times this week, the reduced daylight hours mean that early morning and late evening golf is not possible.  That said, most club committees have worked to ensure fair access for members.  Back in May it was the ILGU and GUI that issued the guidance on the re-opening of courses.  This time the updates were posted on the Golf Ireland website, and while the new governing body is still officially a few weeks away it was a sign of the progressive movement towards the new governing body.  Again the leadership from Golf Ireland was clear and timely,  a detailed guidance for golfers and clubs was made available.  The guidance will be familiar to anyone who played during Many and June, and it represents many common sense measures to protect golfers while playing.

There should continue to be no organised social gatherings, of any size, at the facility.  All golf activities should be organised on the basis of arrival-play-depart without delay. Shotgun starts are not compatible with this guidance as they create large gatherings.  All retail, including pro shops, can reopen while adhering to strict physical distancing and hygiene guidelines.  Daily timesheets are restricted to a minimum of 8, 9 or 10 minute intervals.  Clubs may only choose one interval for each day.  If clubs choose 8+ minute intervals, play is restricted to 2 golfers per start time and f clubs choose 9+ minutes, up to 3 golfers may play per start time.  If clubs choose 10+ minutes, up to 4 golfers may play per start time.  Clubs must ensure that players names (including members’ guests) are recorded on timesheets and timesheets must be kept for a period of at least 6 weeks to assist with contact tracing should the need arise.  From the 18th December through to 6th January golfers will be allowed to travel nationwide as restrictions are eased over the Christmas period.  Unlike the initial reopening back in May, club competitions are permitted and members guests are also allowed to play.

Golf Ireland CEO Mark Kennelly said: “The golf community is pleased that courses can reopen from Tuesday next.  Golfers welcome the opportunity to resume play on a responsible and safe basis, as they did during the May to October period.  The governing bodies are issuing renewed guidance to our member clubs today and we strongly urge all golfers to continue to fully adhere to these protocols which are aimed at keeping golf and the wider community safe while the Covid-19 pandemic remains such a serious threat.  We also ask golfers to fully comply with the wider public health restrictions, particularly the travel restrictions that will remain in place until 18th December.

Unlike the return to golf in May, the 5km travel restriction no longer applies and golfers are free to travel anywhere withing their county.  That’s great for Cork golfers who may be based in the city or suburbs, but play golf outside the city.  Although the 5km rule has been lifted, several restrictions remain, and Kennelly is hopeful that golfers will continue to uphold the positive image of the sport through Covid-19.  “Earlier this year, Irish golf demonstrated how our sport could be enjoyed by women and men of all ages in a safe and secure environment.  As golf resumes, we hope that golfers enjoy their play but continue to be vigilant in adhering to the safety protocols”.