Confused by what the latest government rules mean for golf? Steve Carroll breaks down the restrictions in England, Scotland and Wales and how they may apply to the sport and clubhouses

As coronavirus cases soar across Great Britain, governments have been tightening the rules in a bid to manage the pandemic.

And those instructions, that set out what you can and cannot do depending on the country, or area, in which you live, are naturally affecting golf.

But if you find yourself confused about what it all means, as new restrictions come into force, we set out the rules for England, Scotland and Wales as they stand and what they mean for your club…

England

From October 14, Covid alert levels – or tiers – determine what applies to you and your club.

The tiers are labelled Medium, High and Very High. Medium covers areas where current national restrictions are already in place.

Here, you will continue to be unable to socialise in groups larger than six either in your clubhouse or outdoors.

While businesses and venues can continue to operate in a coronavirus secure manner, golfers or visitors can only consume food and drink while seated and a 10pm curfew applies to clubhouses. They must shut between 10pm and 5am.

Businesses and venues selling food for consumption off the premises can continue to do so after 10pm as long as this is through delivery service, click-and-collect or drive-through.

You must wear a face covering in all public areas of the clubhouse, except while eating and drinking, and should continue to follow social distancing rules.

Locker rooms should be closed except for allowing use of toilets, hand-wash basins and the retrieval of stored items.

For areas where there is a higher level of infections, some additional restrictions are in place. Those Covid High level areas currently include much of the North East of England and swathes of the North West as well as parts of Derbyshire, Leicestershire and Nottinghamshire, along with West and South Yorkshire.

So, on top of Medium restrictions, golfers will be unable to socialise with anybody outside of their household or support bubble in any indoor setting – whether at home or in a public place.

Golf can continue to take place outdoors. People can continue to travel to venues or amenities that are open, for work or to access education, but are advised to “reduce the number of journeys” where possible.

For areas that have a Very High level of coronavirus infections, at present the Liverpool City region, even tighter restrictions are in place – although golf is still permitted to take place outdoors.

Government advice states the “restrictions placed on areas with a very high level of infections can vary, and are based on discussions between central and local government”.

But, at a minimum, it means not socialising with anybody you do not live with, or have formed a support bubble with, in any indoor setting or in any private garden, or at most outdoor hospitality venues and ticketed events.

People also can’t come together in a group of more than six in an outdoor public space.

Pubs and bars must close. How might this affect clubhouses? Such establishments can “only remain open where they operate as if they were a restaurant, which means serving substantial meals, like a main lunchtime or evening meal. They may only serve alcohol as part of such a meal.”

Golfers should avoid travelling outside the Very High alert level area they are in or entering a Very High alert area, and are instructed to avoid staying overnight in another part of the UK.

Those living elsewhere are told to avoid staying overnight in a Very High alert level area, which may have implications for golfers contemplating trips to such areas.

These restrictions are said to be “the baseline”. It’s likely there could be further restrictions preventing the sale of alcohol in hospitality, or closing all hospitality (except takeaway and delivery), which would clearly have an impact on clubhouses.

But, as in Medium and High level, pro shops can remain open, with mandatory wearing of face coverings, and clubs have a legal obligation to collect track and trace information on all visitors to the clubhouse and keep it for 21 days.

Players are urged to check whether additional restrictions apply in their area.

Scotland

Golf can continue on the course, with up to four players from four different households allowed to play together. There are no changes to access to toilet facilities, locker rooms or professional shops.

On October 9, though, hospitality restrictions came into force that applied to private members’ clubs across the country.

Pubs and restaurants in five Scottish health board areas – Greater Glasgow & Clyde, Lanarkshire, Ayrshire & Arran, Lothian and Forth Valley – were told to shut to all but takeaway customers – but licensed cafes can remain open from 6am to 6pm. However, they must not sell alcohol.

In other parts of Scotland, pubs, bars, restaurants and cafes can operate from 6am to 6pm but cannot serve alcohol indoors during that time. These premises can sell alcohol outdoors until 10pm. 

Rules on gatherings remain the same with a maximum of six people from two households permitted.

A Scottish Golf statement on October 13 said: “Scottish Golf has been in ongoing dialogue with our partners at sportscotland and the Scottish Government to seek further clarity on the licensing of premises and how this might impact our affiliated clubs. 

“We have today received confirmation that individual premises will need to act in accordance with the current guidance in place based on their existing license. As the type of license can vary from club to club, we would encourage all clubs to make contact with their local authority and environmental health team who will be able to further advise on the type of license your clubhouse has.”

Wales

Golf clubs in Wales have been ordered to close after the country was pitched back into national lockdown. Labelled a short ‘circuit break’, it will see all leisure and non-essential retail shut from Friday, October 23 at 6pm until Monday, November 9.

An FAQ page on the Welsh Government website, setting out guidance on the restrictions set to come into force, stated that “golf and tennis clubs will be required to close during the period of the lockdown”.

The decision will have huge repercussions for an industry trying to get back on its feet following the UK-wide lockdown in the spring.

That was estimated to have cost clubs across the country around £5 million in lost revenue, with more than 500 staff furloughed across the game.

Wales Golf responded by giving clubs a five-month affiliation fee holiday in a move that cost more than £250,000.

Golf clubs in large swathes of the country were already trying to get to grips with local lockdown measures, which had only been recently introduced, that restricted travel and, in some cases, meant golfers were unable to cross counties to play at clubs where they are members.

An information update from the Golf Club Managers’ Association has stated that: “A new fund has been created to help those businesses affected by the closure. The main points being that:

  • Every business covered by the small business rates relief will get a £1,000 payment.
  • “Small and medium-sized retail, leisure and hospitality businesses which have to close will receive a one-off payment of up to £5,000. 
  • “There will also be additional discretionary grants and support for smaller businesses, which are struggling.”

We will update this piece as we receive more information from the various governing bodies.

How is coronavirus affecting your club? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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