We’re back. Well, at least in England we’re back. In accordance with the Prime Minister’s statement as of May 10, golfers are permitted to take to the fairways once again after a seven-week hiatus caused by the COVID-19 outbreak. As it stands: golf must be either practiced alone; with members of the same household or with one other external participant. Social distancing regulations must be observed at all times and many clubs are only allowing “two-balls” with reduced facilities to minimise the risk of spread. It’s a far cry away from your weekly fourball roll-up, but we’ll take it.
Whilst the seven-week absence of the game may have left a cavernous hole in your life that no amount of bedroom putting, garden chipping and shadow swinging could ever have filled, you can’t help but be impressed with the overall response of the game in these times of crisis. As a sport that is often criticised for its out-of-touch image and refusal to compromise or adapt, you ought to be encouraged by the actions of the governing bodies and golf clubs up and down the country to the pandemic. The virus is undoubtedly a divisive issue. The public are split on a number of issues that are sure to cripple the nation in the coming years and normal people are starting to agree with Piers Morgan on Twitter. It’s a confusing time. However, in an age where disunity and disharmony are rife, golf is bucking the trend and can provide a beacon of hope for its obsessive worshippers.
Was that a bit much? Possibly. But it is all too easy to dismiss golf as an irrelevance at a time like this. Numerous PGA Tour players jumped at the chance to criticise the Tour for attempting to go ahead with the Players tournament back in March. Some alluded to the “insignificance” of the sport in the face of the outbreak. The sentiment was well-intended and quite rightly stressed the need to prioritise public safety when tackling an unknown threat on society. However, the positive impact of sport on mental health should not be underestimated and the game acts as a vital crutch in the lives of millions of Britons. Two challenging months have passed since that golden evening in Ponte Vedra Beach and the UK government has decided it is safe for you to dust off the cobwebs and get back on the course. Admittedly, that’s not quite verbatim but their statement represents a positive step forward and a semblance of life before the virus.
Despite the obvious concerns, the pragmatic and united response from the key figures in the sport has to be praised. Behind the scenes, it is clear that England Golf have done some remarkable work to ensure the safety of golfers and allay the government’s fears about allowing its return as soon as possible. Similarly, many clubs have prepared such excellent contingency plans that they have been able re-open their venues in superb conditions in the blink of an eye. Their efficacy has not gone unrewarded. Public and private courses alike are fully-booked for days and obtaining a coveted tee-time has become a challenge in itself.
The desire to play the game is there. It will undoubtedly be tough for some clubs to survive the impending recession but these places will have to adapt or suffer the consequences. The traditional membership model has long been in decline but clubs can be buoyed by the increased uptake in packages offering a more complete offering for them and their family. Now is the chance for golf courses to pounce on the sport’s social distancing nature by continuing to welcome new players to the game in the most accessible way possible. Credit must be given to venues such as Haydock Park for offering NHS workers a free round of golf or, better yet, a free group taster lesson. A good PR stunt? Of course, but also a sincere gesture to help move the game away from its misunderstood image as an elite sport.
In the face of so much uncertainty, it is fantastic to regain the certainty of those mixed emotions that arise upon teeing it up at the first. Domestic tourism is set to thrive this summer and the return of golf should provide a welcome boost to the economy. A minor boost on paper, but we have to start somewhere. We’ve missed the long drives, the sand saves, the Seve-esque recovery shots, the lasered irons, the snakey putts, the holeouts and even the downhill three footers for par. We’ll never take them for granted again.
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