By MARTIN DEMPSTER - The Scotsman Newspaper
Talk about a right old guddle. In England, it’s tomorrow, it could be the weekend in Wales and, in parts of Ireland, it’s Monday. Oh, and no one knows when it will be in Scotland. The reopening of golf courses is turning into an almighty mess and not what the sport needs at a time when it is going to be under the microscope.
As far as the UK courses are concerned, it would have been much better if they had all been reopening at the same time following the mass closure on 23 March due to the coronavirus crisis, but that possibility is no longer on the table following Prime Minister Boris Johnson’s address to the nation on Sunday.
He gave the green light for courses to reopen in England, with play now confirmed as being permissible with someone from another household, but, due to devolved administrations taking differing approaches to the lockdown, venues in Scotland, Northern Ireland and Wales will remain closed for the time being.
The Scottish Government had made its position clear on Friday, with Joe Fitzpatrick, Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing, insisting the sport can only return in its cradle “once it is safe to do so” and that, apparently, isn’t now due to the focus remaining on “measures to slow the spread of the virus, protect the NHS and save lives”.
In the same statement, Scottish Golf said “nothing has been finalised regarding a date, or any details of potential phasing with Government”, with the governing body subsequently responding to the Prime Minister’s announcement that the position in Scotland remains the same – i.e. courses must remain closed.
In short, Scottish golfers are being urged to remain patient. Their eagerness to get back out on courses after seeing them shut for seven weeks is about to increase even more when club members in England start to relay how good it feels to be back playing, but now isn’t the time for anyone to do anything silly.
In that statement at the end of last week, Scottish Golf ’s chief operating officer, Karin Sharp, said it had been “disappointing to hear that some clubs in Scotland have communicated to members their intent to reopen their golf courses ahead of restrictions being lifted”.
That claim came out of the blue, to be honest, and there has been no talk of any such plans in the tsunami of golf club chat on social media recently, but, if any club is indeed contemplating that step, then don’t. It would be reckless and foolish, bringing shame on the club and Scotland as a golfing nation.
It will indeed be painful to see golf courses here continuing to lie empty tomorrow and every day thereafter as England gets a headstart in trying to kickstart the sport’s recovery in the UK, but this is the time for cool heads and clear minds.
Yes, First Minister Nicola Sturgeon is adopting a cautious approach when it comes to the possibility of lockdown restrictions being lifted and, yes, that is frustrating some golfers at a time when their courses are being used as exercise areas for walkers, cyclists and, in some cases, impromptu football kickabouts.
But surely that will be worth it if it helps deliver an environment that a) allows golfers to feel comfortable about returning to courses and b) allows clubs to ensure they are getting it right when it comes to delivering “safe golf ”, because both those things are vital as part of the bid to avoid a spike in the current number of Covid cases and also a potential second wave.
While some Scottish golfers feel they should be back on the golf course soon, if not already, it is clear that others are prepared to show that patience. At the same time, though, it would be good if they could be given some indication of the date we might be talking about. Say, for instance, it was 25 May. That would give everyone in the industry good and proper time to get clubs ready to open for business because, just in case anyone has forgotten, staff at most venues are still on furlough.
No-one in Scotland is enjoying being kept away from their golf course at the moment and the sooner courses reopen the better in terms of the sport’s economy here. But let’s do our country proud by adhering to what we are being advised and return to the fairways only when the time is deemed right.