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Calm down everyone – golf courses not reopening until March 29 can be a good thing

We're all frustrated at the delay to golf returning in England. But, writes Steve Carroll, we'll be better off for it. We'll let him explain
 

There’s been little else to do in lockdown so I’ve done some working out. With golf courses in England reopening on March 29, if I’m lucky enough to secure a tee time, it will have been 86 days since I last swung a golf club.

If I’ve had a longer break in the last decade I’m struggling to remember it, so long has this sport been a central part of my life.

I don’t even want to think about adding up the other weeks and months I’ve lost over the last year.

I recognise the frustrations of those angry we’re not returning to the course at the same time as schools fully open their classrooms. That we can’t play the game we love but can sit on a park bench with a friend, and a coffee in hand, in idle chatter doesn’t seem logical.

Of course, it isn’t. But where health and politics have become intertwined over the long course of this pandemic, I’ve rather given up trying to figure out where one starts and the other ends.

I understand the complaints, the anger and the disappointment that splurges out each time a new pronouncement is made on social media.

But the date’s set now and it isn’t going to change. I need to be positive. And I really think March 29 – as much as you might have to bear it – could be for the best.

Before you all turn on me, let me try and explain. Towards the end of the first lockdown, if you can think all the way back to May, there was a bit of a panic.

Boris Johnson made his announcement on the Sunday and clubs had the chance to fling open their gates in joy just a few days later.

For greenkeeping crews who had been depleted by furlough, and handcuffed by essential maintenance restrictions, the race was on to get courses up to speed for the first golfers returning.

And it really was a race. The time was so tight that many clubs didn’t even take the padlocks off on that Wednesday. They just couldn’t get ready.

There was plenty in their favour then. Nice weather – we’d come off a blistering April – and long days. Things we’re not afforded this time around.

Essential maintenance hasn’t been a requirement in this lockdown but it’s been the default position. If you’re a golf club facing a lengthy closure, with none of the usual revenue coming in outside of subscriptions, you’re going to furlough everyone you can to save money.

Although you’ve not heard much about it this time, lots of greenkeepers have been stuck at home with us.

And maybe being shut up in our warm houses has dulled our senses to the harsh winter we’ve lived through over the past couple of months. 

It has been horrendous. Would we even have played in the face of the flooding, frost, snow and storms that have endlessly circled?

At my home club, the greenkeepers posted a picture last week of a mower positioned at the end of a green. It was the first time they had been cut this year.

Winter work? Forget about it. Even now, our courses are saturated. Could your teams turn that around in the few days before March 8?

They’d give you a layout you can play. It would be on borrowed time, though. That coring still needs doing, so does that top dressing.

I think the complaints would be soaring if the rain came down in April and turned a lot of parklands into a trodden mess.

So let’s consider what this break – as much we might not like it – can do. It can give your greenkeepers five precious weeks to get things ready and to do the work that’s been parked as Covid surged and the weather waged war on the grass.

It can give them the opportunity to put in the groundwork that will lead to a super summer, when courses will surely be busier than ever as we hopefully bask in our new-found freedom.

In short, it can give our greenkeepers a chance.

I’m counting down the minutes to when I can play golf again. I won’t be angered by the delay, though. I’m excited by the opportunities it can bring. 

Would you rather a muddy round on temporary greens now and courses that are ill-prepared for heavy traffic this summer, or a couple of extra weeks’ hallway putting practice while the greenkeepers get the course ready and resilient ahead of what we hope is a brilliant year of golf? 

It’s difficult to be patient, especially if you consider there’s an injustice being perpetrated, but I’d urge you to try.

It will be worth the wait in the end.

What do you make of the decision to reopen courses as late as March 29? 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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