scottish golf

Member booms, learning from ‘down south’, and a tinge of sadness: The day Scotland reopened

Good things come to those who wait


Chris Spencer’s been in post since the end of January, but it almost seemed like the first day in his job as he manned the starter’s position on the 1st tee at Dunblane New.

“It was so members could put a face to the name,” said the club manager as they were finally able to open the doors again after being shut for more than two months.

That opening day of term feeling was one replicated across golf courses in Scotland as the first phase of the Government’s easing of coronavirus restrictions came into force and the country became the last of the UK nations to return to golf.

Spencer will be Dunblane’s ‘honorary starter’ for two days – giving him a chance to personally greet players – after a clubhouse rewiring and nearly 70 days of lockdown had limited introductions.

He had a rewarding day. The first tee time was at 7.30am and then they followed, at 10 minute intervals, right through until 8.30pm.

“Two brothers teed off first – one hit the fairway and one hit the rough,” he said. “Both were delighted to be back out playing, as have been all of the members. We’ve had two thirds of the members hit the fairway [in the morning], which isn’t bad considering they haven’t played for so long.

“There is a good feel about the place. It looks really clean and tidy and we’ve done a lot of work over the last couple of weeks to get it ready to reopen.

“Everybody I have spoken to is absolutely delighted. It’s blue skies and sunshine. What more could you want for the start of a game of golf?”

Spencer’s optimism is well-founded. They’ve had as many as 30 enquiries for membership at Dunblane, a boost that has been matched at plenty of other clubs north of the border.

“We’ve seen in the last five days quite a significant increment within membership sales,” added Alastair Sinclair, chief executive of PlayMoreGolf. “It started earlier than the English clubs, mainly because they were able to to see the impact it was having in England.

scottish golf

“We went live at Forfar on Wednesday and sold five new memberships in just 24 hours. At Strathmore, we’ve had 16 new members since the announcement was promoted last week.

“All across the board, we’ve seen double digit sales in the last five to seven days.”

On the coast at East Lothian, though, delight was also mixed in with a prevailing mood of uncertainty.

Scotland’s Golf Coast’s Malcolm Duck said reopening was “tinged with sadness” as many of the 21 courses the organisation represents were looking pensively at the prospect of a season without international tourists.

“There is relief, but there is also a cost,” he said of golf’s return. “There’s no tourism and very little revenue. There is golf for the club member but for those who rely on tourists, their whole model is based on visitor income.

“Without that, it is going to be very hard getting through the year. Members have paid their fees and that’s really important, and you want to look after the members, but there is no additional revenue coming from anywhere.

“[The return] is great and everyone is delighted but we do have to look at the rest of it. I’m sat here watching people playing golf and looking at my empty bar and my empty outside tables on a beautiful sunny day and wondering are we going to survive?”

North Berwick took on a new life during lockdown – with people using the course, close to the beach, as their green space.

But as the more familiar sight of golfers once again began to walk across the famous West Links, general manager Elaine McBride said the return went off without a hitch.

“It’s been great. We’ve had no issues with the tee booking system before it went live yesterday and we’ve got a lot of happy members,” she said.

“We probably weren’t able to accommodate all of them, given twoballs and the fact we’ve implemented 15 minute tee-times.

“That’s because we are slowly trying to claim the course back from members of the public, who have been using it as their green space for the last 10 weeks. So we thought the 15-minute intervals would give us a little bit more leeway with people trying to cross the course and prevent groups bunching up.

“I was down at the first tee this morning, when the first group teed off at 7.30am and it has been great. The public have been very accommodating and they’re very grateful to have had use of the course.

“They’ve handed it back to us and most of them have been very respectful in relation to the course and where they can and can’t go.”

In the North of Scotland, at Nairn Dunbar on the Moray Firth, Friday’s tee-times were booked up in 11 minutes. Saturday and Sunday – they were only taking names three days in advance – quickly followed suit.

Robbie Stewart, the club’s director of golf, described the return to action as “nuts, but in a nice way”.

“We restricted it to three days to try and give as many people a chance to get a tee time as we could,” he said. “It’s a slightly later start than some – a 9am start – to allow the greens staff to get out early and carry out their work safely and without any golfers being close to them.

“It’s 9am through to 7pm and it’s gone in 10 minutes. Everybody is just delighted to be here. It’s been a long time and those that have managed to get a tee time are pretty much ecstatic.

“One chap described it as being like Christmas morning. He was so excited last night – got the clubs cleaned and the shoes polished. He was up early this morning and there has been a lot of that.”

Stewart added: “It’s been a superb summer’s day and everyone has been relieved, excited and happy. We had really learned from what happened down south and we were as warned and prepared as we could possibly be.

“I’m surprised how quickly the tee times did go each day but it’s understandable as everyone just wants to play day one. Having come through the last few months, and reached this point, there is probably more optimism now than there would have been two or three months ago.

“It’s very positive and, if anything, there’s an opportunity for the whole game at the moment. Like other clubs, the interest and enquiries we’ve had on club membership over the last few days has been fantastic.

“It’s something we’d heard about down south and you always wonder. We’re up in the north of Scotland, a little bit remote and a little bit cut off, but there has been exactly the same interest up here as well.”

Did you get out for a game as golf  courses in Scotland reopened? Let me know how it went in the comments, or tweet me.

Pictures courtesy of Malcolm Duck.

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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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