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golf foursomes coronavirus

Golf courses are open – and it’s bliss! Now it’s up to us to make sure it stays that way

With talk of another Covid wave it's vital golf keeps building the case to not close again, writes Steve Carroll
 

The eyes were wide, the pupils dancing. First one swish, and another. A couple of waggles. Then, for just a moment, silence. A surprisingly rhythmic movement saw club hit ball with a crash. What a sound after so long!

Only it was followed by this: “Oh. That’s on the wrong fairway.” Welcome back.

There were chunks. There were pulls. There were blocks. There were pars and doubles. Encounters with trees and water.

One ball, sadly, did not live to tell the tale. But golf courses reopened in England and wasn’t it great to be back?

After 84 days since many of us last hit a meaningful shot, we returned to the fairways – well some of us – as the next stage of coronavirus lockdown easing began.

Did any of you keep score? I think I might have got an eight on the first – it’s a par-5 before you all start – and our group got as far as the 3rd without having to open the swear box.

I’m sure many of you felt great joy as you waved across a packed car park at friends you haven’t seen for three months and wound your way around 18 precious holes.

I did too. But I also felt something else. A huge sense of wasted time.

In a hopeless bid to stop piling on the pounds during shutdown, I tried to replace the 30,000 or so steps I’d lost on the golf course each week by taking a stroll around my estate.

I’m lucky enough to live close to a small lake but I learned early on this was a route to be avoided.

It didn’t matter what time I went. First thing in the morning, mid-afternoon, later evening, it was always busy with people – grouped or funnelling round a circular path that narrowed too many times for comfort.

I quickly gave that a miss, settling for a not very beaten track around an empty industrial estate and looking through the windows of closed down restaurants.

Some of you will already know where I’m going with this.

I was barely within 10 feet of my playing partners all the way through our three-and-a-half-hour return to the golf course on Monday.

We were left, right, occasionally in the centre, but rarely within arm’s reach. We didn’t need to be told to socially distance. If you’re a handicap hacker, it’s basically a compulsion.

And yet it was all still taken away in January.

You don’t need me to go over the arguments again. Golfers complained long and loud as Government repeated the mantra of “following the science” and then appeared to set aside two pretty high-profile reports that said they could, and should, get players back out straight away.

Why mention it again? Because amid the delight today there are concerning noises in some quarters.

A third wave sweeps across Europe, with Boris Johnson bemoaning these cases will soon find their way to our shores.

Ministers refuse to rule out closing down once more. Even vaccines – with 30 million first shots having gone through arms – are no longer claimed to be the ‘silver bullet’.

Let’s hope the much-heralded ‘sunlit uplands’ are actually here. That we can enjoy a glorious summer of golf and that a pandemic into its second year is finally on the back burner.

If the worst should happen, though, if variants take hold and again force us into retreat, we must ensure this time that the case is irrefutable and the padlocks never return to our course gates.

The benefits of golf – physical and mental – have never been clearer. How did you feel when 18 holes were done? I saw smiles, heard laughter, and watched long-built tensions finally start to unwind. I’m a new man, and you must be too.

But Covid hasn’t gone away simply because golf courses reopened and it’s already kept us from playing for three spells over the last 12 months.

This has to be the last time. Our governing bodies need to keep lobbying and making the case that golf is safe – a case that can’t be ignored.

We need to make those voices heard now, rather than trying to change closed minds during the panic of deep restrictions.

The first day back was such a relief. So let’s bottle this feeling, keep the pressure on, and use it to make sure we don’t have to go through this again.

Were you out as golf courses reopened? What needs to be done to keep golf going if lockdown raises its head once more? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

Steve Carroll

A journalist for 25 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former club captain, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the R&A's prestigious Tournament Administrators and Referees Seminar.

Steve has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying, PGA Fourball Championship, English Men's Senior Amateur, and the North of England Amateur Championship. In 2023, he made his international debut as part of the team that refereed England vs Switzerland U16 girls.

A part of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap. He currently floats at around 11.

Steve plays at Close House, in Newcastle, and York GC, where he is a member of the club's matches and competitions committee and referees the annual 36-hole scratch York Rose Bowl.

Having studied history at Newcastle University, he became a journalist having passed his NTCJ exams at Darlington College of Technology.

What's in Steve's bag: TaylorMade Stealth 2 driver, 3-wood, and hybrids; TaylorMade Stealth 2 irons; TaylorMade Hi-Toe, Ping ChipR, Sik Putter.

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