Calls for golf courses to be opened up for public exercise during the coronavirus pandemic aren't going away – as two clubs reveal they've done just that

Moves to open up golf courses to give people more room to exercise during the coronavirus pandemic continue to gather support.

A Sunday Times report, noting a petition from Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole had passed 5,000 signatures, revealed allowing the public access to Britain’s 3,087 courses would give an extra million people “easy access to green space”.

“These people live in urban areas without nearby public parks or playing fields, but within 1,640 feet (500 metres) of a golf course,” the report said.

With about 481,000 acres of public green space across Britain, supplemented by another 311,000 acres of golf course, the newspaper surmised that “in the unlikely event that every Briton took to the nation’s golf courses simultaneously and were evenly spaced, each would have nearly 210 square feet in which to self-isolate”.

The calls to open up golf courses, which have been closed since the UK went into lockdown to limit the spread of the coronavirus pandemic, have sparked fierce debate.

Former Green Party leader Caroline Lucas, Labour Party MP Harriet Harman and Cabinet Office shadow minister Helen Hayes, along with Mayor of London candidate Sian Berry, have all expressed support for the idea, which is attracting backing across the political spectrum.

But golfers, and many golf clubs, have railed against the moves – citing the potential for damage and the money that goes into maintaining a course, many of which are ‘owned’ by the membership.

The question posed will be familiar to many links courses, who have to balance the desires of golfers on a site that is very often laid out across, or close to, public rights of way.

And some clubs are opening up, with the Sunday Times citing the example of Caversham Heath, in Berkshire, among those allowing non-members to take a stroll on their land.

“It was obvious to us that social distancing can be difficult for people on the street whereas we had the space,” general manager Gary Stangoe told the newspaper.

“These are exceptional times and our members were keen to help the community.”

Stangoe is also the general manager of Reading Golf Club, three miles away, and the club contacted NCG last week to add: “We opened our land two weeks ago on both Reading and Caversham Heath for essential exercising, walking and jogging only.

“Both head greenkeepers believe it was [the] correct thing to do. Ninety-nine per cent of users respectful and very grateful, particularly the elderly self policing.”

coronavirus

In a notice to local residents on their website from chairman Colin Reed, the club stated: “We would like to make the land inside the perimeter of our courses available to the local residents (walking only) for essential once a day exercise (no cycling or skateboarding etc).

“You do so at your own risk and you must observe the appropriate minimum of the social distancing and all government guidelines and for all to stay away from the closely mown areas of the fairways, tees, bunkers and greens.

“If dog walking we ask that all dog mess is collected and removed from the site.”

They added: “We will continue to offer this facility during this period of closure as long as the above is fully observed and as we can. The ability to get some fresh air and exercise will be the salvation for many and the board and members of Reading Golf Club are keen to do what we can to offer our support to all.”

Shrubsole’s petition on Change.org, to secretary of state for health Matt Hancock, stood at 5,500 signatures at the time of writing.

Have you changed your mind on the idea of opening up golf courses to public exercise during coronavirus after seeing the examples of Caversham Heath and Reading? Let me know in the comments or tweet me.

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