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golf after lockdown

Golf after lockdown: The PGA, BIGGA and GCMA’s guidance

Golf’s professional bodies have come together to issue guidance to clubs
 

Golf’s professional bodies have released a manual outlining how clubs could reopen once government lockdown restrictions have been eased.

The 2,500-word document suggests measures for preparing the course, starting a phased return to play, carrying out PGA professional services, clubhouse management, and resuming full services.

Titled ‘Operational Guidance For The Future Phased Re-opening Of Golf Facilities’, it has been produced by the Professional Golfers’ Association (PGA), British Golf Industry Association (BGIA), British and International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association (BIGGA), Foremost, Golf Club Managers’ Association (GCMA), TGIGolf, and the UK Golf Federation.

The purpose, it says, “is to offer practical advice and guidance across a number of areas to help golf clubs and courses, driving ranges, and their professional staff to prepare for re-opening when the government advises that it is safe to do so.”

Some of the key points include:

Course condition

The guidance states: “It is likely that due to reduced maintenance it will take some time for the course to return to ‘normal’ condition. It is important to manage golfer expectations and explain that the conditions they will experience are the result of limitations imposed by the pandemic essential maintenance safety measures and not through neglect.”

Obvious issues would be: reduced pace of greens through higher cutting heights, higher cutting heights in all/most maintained areas, lengthier rough areas, particularly in ‘out of play’ areas, untidy bunkers and a lack of golf course furniture such as rakes, bins, ball washers, and benches.

“Whilst some golfers may be disappointed with conditions, it does present an opportunity to remind golfers of the fine balance between turf health, maintenance cost and presentation,” the document adds. “It may be that golfers enjoy a more natural, less manicured feel to the golf course and some of the changes may become permanent.”

The guidance continues hat heights of cut will need to be reduced slowly to ensure grass isn’t unduly stressed and maintenance programmes are likely to have been disrupted during the closure, meaning the cancellation of some planned projects.

Playing on the golf course

Facilities are “advised to begin planning for a range of procedures that may be insisted upon to allow safe play to take place”.

These include:

  • Tee time booking should be done online if at all possible
  • Consider increasing the time between tee times to allow for easier social distancing
  • Consider restricting number of players in a group
  • Consider playing a reduced number of holes (eg nine holes)
  • Any payment should be taken online or by contactless methods
  • Clubhouses may initially remain shut so ask people to arrive shortly before their tee time (eg 10-15 minutes) and change their shoes etc. in the car park
  • Consider the layout of the car park for easier social distancing
  • Consider access to toilets
  • It may be necessary to employ marshals on the golf course to ensure that the social distancing directive is maintained between players
  • Remove the flagsticks or ask golfers to leave the flag in at all times. If the flagstick is left in, use a hole liner system that means that the ball doesn’t drop and can be retrieved without touching the cup
  • Remove the bunker rakes and cover or close ball washers and any other course furniture that would otherwise be touched
  • Cover or remove all benches/seating from the course if possible
  • Golfers should be asked to leave the venue as soon as their game is completed

Driving range use

“The safe use of a driving range or practice area must also be considered,” the manual states. “It should be noted that driving ranges might not necessarily be allowed to open at the same time as golf courses.”

Safe use procedures include: If bays are not separated by partitions or walls, close every other bay to allow for social distancing, provide sanitising wipes for people to use as required, and clean the ball dispenser surfaces frequently.

Starting PGA professional services

Among the measures that would need adopting for the “safe use of the professional shop” include:

  • There should be clear external signage to inform golfers a maximum of 2 golfers will be allowed in the shop at any one time (this may need to be 1 golfer at a time for small shops)
  • For larger shops – “agreed numbers of customers may be permitted to enter but this must be in line with social distancing recommendations. Larger shops may also wish to suggest a route to be taken around the shop by use of arrows on the floor
  • Staff in the shop must conform to government advice on social distancing – ideally one person at a time working in the shop. If this is not possible, then a 2 metre distance should be kept
  • There should be a clearly defined queuing area outside the shop where golfers must adhere to social distancing of a minimum of 2 metres
  • Buggy use should be reviewed in the latter stages of ‘return to golf’
  • Where possible, a clear screen should be employed to protect shop staff

Coaching

The guidance advises coaching to take place outdoors and “ideally on the course”. It also recommends, “if at all possible”, not to coach in an indoor studio and creating a two-metre exclusion zone around the lesson tee/golfer that “no one enters” if using a practice ground or similar.

“If you have to move a player into position, use an alignment stick, which is easy to wipe down with sanitising wipes before and after the lesson.”

Other advice includes offering short game coaching sessions that allows golfers to use their own balls, so they are not sharing equipment others may have touched, and taking the flag out of holes on practice areas.

Starting clubhouse management and administration

“Whilst the clubhouse may remain closed for the initial period, there will be a need for the management of the club to be maintained. At this time offices and administration areas should not be available for golfers or visitors to frequent or visit. All members and visitors will need to be made aware of the alternative communications and channels that are available to them.”

On the nuts and bolts of the facilities themselves, among the measures advised are:

  • In the event of clubs offering a take-away coffee/tea service, enforce social distancing rules and ensure staff wear protective gloves. All drinks or snacks are served in either plastic or paper containers
  • Should the decision be made to open the locker rooms and toilets, then there is a need to ensure they are cleaned and sanitised at regular intervals
  • Ensure all safety measures are shared with all employees and that their health and wellbeing is the number one priority. Encourage them to share any concerns and empower them to request that golfers adhere to social distancing measures and report any issues to managers

Resuming full services

“Over time the full services provided by the club and professional staff will resume. However, it must be noted that there may be certain restrictions in place for some time, such as a degree of social distancing, that will necessitate a phased return to full operation.”

You can find all the information, as well as a downloadable PDF with the complete guidance, on the various association websites: BIGGA, GCMA, PGA.

What do you think of these measures? 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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