NCG spoke to BIGGA about their concerns as pressure grows for golf courses to open up for public exercise during the coronavirus lockdown

Opening up golf courses for public exercise could be hazardous and have the potential to cause conflict, the association representing greenkeepers have warned.

The British and International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association (BIGGA) argue that with reduced maintenance taking place on courses during the coronavirus pandemic, areas could become “dangerous to a public that is unaccustomed to the golf course environment”.

They also expressed concern, if courses were made available for socially distanced exercise, “that should a greenkeeper see somebody acting in a way that was untoward or not in the spirit of the agreement, there’s the potential for conflict”.

NCG asked BIGGA for their views on the merits of calls for courses to be opened for public exercise.

That clamour has grown, since the Government lockdown began nearly a month ago, to reduce the burden on public parks and provide additional green space for people to exercise and stick to social distancing rules.

While an online petition by Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole has gathered more than 6,000 signatures, the principle has also been backed by a number of influential MPs.

It’s been raised in a Sunday Times report, an editorial in the Sun, a contribution to Radio 4’s ‘Thought of the Day’, and across social media.

Asked about the implications for greenkeepers if courses were opened up to the public for exercise during the coronavirus pandemic, a BIGGA spokesperson said: “It’s important to remember that even at this time, the golf course is a working environment.

“Golf courses are not public parks and greenkeepers are highly skilled professionals undertaking practices and utilising equipment that can be dangerous if due care and attention is not paid.

“Some areas of the course, such as those that have been newly constructed, bunker faces, wildflower areas and ecology areas are particularly sensitive to damage.

“Additionally, golf courses are designed to be landscapes with hazards in place, such as sudden drops into bunkers, areas of trees and water hazards.

“With reduced maintenance taking place, there is the potential for these areas to become dangerous to a public that is unaccustomed to the golf course environment.

“Greenkeepers have been instructed to complete only the most essential maintenance and the closure of golf courses has enabled this to be kept to the very minimum.

“Greenkeeping teams are all working with reduced teams and hours already and by opening up golf courses, the additional wear and tear, security, any potential vandalism and litter would mean that greenkeepers would have to spend additional time at work rectifying these issues, and that’s something we’d hope to avoid to keep our members safe.”

Recent guidance issued to police officers in England has appeared to suggest driving to take a walk was lawful during the lockdown – raising fears golf courses could become a popular venue for travel whether they were legally opened up or not.

With incidences of trespassing, from golfers and members of the public, having already been seen, the spokesman added when asked if the association was worried whether more people could turn up: “When a golf club is open for play it’s a surprisingly controlled environment.

“Things golfers take for granted, such as out of play markers or roped off areas, do a really effective job of channelling traffic away and keeping golfers safe.

“These signposts may not be in place on a golf course that is closed and so if public access is given, the club would be opening itself up to potential legal difficulty if someone comes to harm.

“The governing bodies within the golf industry have unanimously stated that the appropriate response at this time is to close golf courses to protect public health and we fully support that. To open golf courses to the public would be in direct contravention of that.

“We are concerned that if golf courses were also to open to the public, that should a greenkeeper see somebody acting in a way that was untoward or not in the spirit of the agreement, there’s the potential for conflict.

“We would suggest to our members that if this was to occur, that they shouldn’t approach the member of the public as this could escalate the situation. Rather, they should make a note of details, such as personal appearance, and contact the police.

“Unfortunately this would place additional strain on the emergency services at a time when they are already stretched to the limit, but it would be the only sure-fire way for greenkeepers to ensure their own health and safety.”

What do you feel about BIGGA’s views and should this finally put to rest the demands to open up golf courses for public exercise during coronavirus? Have your say in the comments or tweet me.

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