Steve Carroll rounds up all the new coronavirus restriction changes and what they mean for golf in England, Scotland, Wales and Ireland

Across the UK and Ireland a raft of other coronavirus restrictions have been eased – all of which have an impact on the way you can play golf.

We round up the changes and the latest guidance from the sport’s governing bodies in England, Wales, Scotland and Ireland…

England

England Golf’s guidance was updated on July 19 and includes the “removal of any restrictions around on course items” as well as the end of social distancing.

The governing body have amended their Play Safe, Stay Safe framework, which means “all golf course furniture may be returned for normal use, including the removal of flagsticks, standard hole cups, bunker rakes and ball-washers”.

England Golf have recommended clubs provide hand sanitiser stations on the course, and around practice facilities, to ensure golfers can regularly clean their hands.

In a three-page document, they also advise that competition and scoring – such as the handling and submitting of scorecards – can return to how it was pre-pandemic.

“Coronavirus-related changes to the rules of golf and all handicapping provisions that enabled the game to be played competitively during the period in which restrictions have been set are to be removed.”

While the updates signal a return to golfing normality, England Golf have recommended clubs consider “keeping a form of tee booking or player registration system in place”.

Pro shops, clubhouses, hospitality areas, changing facilities and other indoor areas can run as normal, while, on course, the planned removal of rules around social distancing and congregation numbers will mean “there are no restrictions on the golf course with regards to course furniture, sharing equipment, touching golf balls or the size of groups, beyond those set by the club.”

Wales

Wales have moved fully into Alert Level 1 restrictions and also took the first steps into Alert Level Zero on Saturday, July 17.

Wales Golf have eased the guidance for clubs in the country but note they must conduct a “thorough risk assessment when implementing any changes, and should consult with their health & safety advisor and insurance provider when making any changes”.

The governing body have confirmed the following alterations have come into effect:

+ Scoring in Stroke Play (Rule 3.3b) – the provisions of Rule 3.3b apply where the player’s score is kept on his or her scorecard by a marker. Certification of the scorecard by the marker and by the player should occur, as per the guidelines of Rule 3.3b(2).

+ Flagsticks – There will no longer be a requirement to leave the flagstick in the hole at all times.

+ Hole, and Definition of Holed – Coronavirus related changes to the definition of a hole and when the ball is holed are now removed.

+ Rakes – Preferred lies in bunkers will no longer be permissible, and bunkers should no longer be made ground under repair, so it is recommended that rakes are returned to the course.

+ On-Course Furnishings – Course furnishings such as ball washers, benches, bins etc. can be in use on the course.

+ Social Distancing – The regulations will no longer give particular prominence to 2 metre physical distancing outdoors.

On the shared use of buggies, clubs that want to allow it will need to carry out a risk assessment. Wales Golf say mitigating circumstances could include the use of a screen and/or the driver and passenger remaining in the same place throughout the round of golf.

They state buggies should be thoroughly sanitised before and after each use.

On touching flagsticks and rakes, Wales Golf say clubs should provide “regular hand sanitiser stations on the golf course, and golfers should be reminded to bring their own hand sanitiser”.

They add: “Clubs should also provide guidance to golfers, including that before touching on course items, any gloves should be removed and hands should be sanitised. After touching an on-course item, hands should be sanitised again.  In addition, the items should be cleaned regularly.”

Scotland

Mainland Scotland moved to Protection Level 0 on Monday, July 19 and Scottish Golf have updated their guidance with the following key changes in place:

+ Outdoor bubbles (coaching & competition) up to 500 with no participant limit per day

+ Locker Rooms/Changing Facilities can re-open

+ Indoor Hospitality extended to groups of 10 people from 4 households

+ All golf course furniture may be returned for normal use, including the removal of flagsticks, standard hole cups and bunker rakes

+ Preferred lies in bunkers may remain in place at club’s discretion, recognising that not every golfer will wish to use a communal rake

Scottish Golf recommend each club carry out a risk assessment that is “specific to the situation at their club”.

The governing body adds: “While this latest update is a further step forward in the return to golf and its traditions as we know it, until such time as restrictions are lifted fully we would urge everyone to continue to risk assess for their specific environment and respect differing perspectives in relation to risk will still be evident across the wide range of golfers in Scotland.”

Northern Ireland and Republic of Ireland

Flagsticks and bunker rakes can be reintroduced at courses in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland from Friday, July 23.

In a statement, Golf Ireland said that knowledge regarding fomite-mediated (surface) transmission of Covid-19 has continued to evolve.

“The view of the Centres for Disease Control (CDC) is that it is possible for people to be infected through contact with contaminated surfaces or objects (fomites), but the risk is generally considered to be low, with the principal mode of exposure to SARS CoV-2 being exposure to respiratory droplets carrying infectious virus. Furthermore, the risk of fomite-based transmission is significantly reduced in outdoor settings,” they said.

As a result, they’ve made the following changes to Golf Ireland’s Protocol…

Flagsticks

  • Golf clubs may reintroduce standard flagsticks and hole depths, removing modifications previously introduced. 
  • Where a Golf Club removes modifications, the standard rules of golf for the flagstick should be reintroduced (see Rules 13.2 and 13.3 in particular). 
  • Where a Golf Club reintroduces conventional flagsticks, a strong and renewed emphasis on hand-washing both before and after play must be reinforced. Hand sanitisers should be available at entry and exit points to the course.
  • Only one player should handle the flagstick on each hole.
  • Should a Golf Club wish to continue to persist with COVID-related modifications, this would be permissible as The R&A are continuing at this time to make the COVID-19 Rules of Golf available

Bunker Rakes

  • Bunker rakes may be reintroduced to the course. 
  • Where Golf Clubs reintroduce bunker rakes, the application of a local rule permitted placing within a bunker should no longer be operated.
  • Should a Golf Club wish to continue with bunker rakes removed, they may do so and may continue to apply such a local rule for handicapping purposes. 
  • Only one player should handle the rake where more than one player’s ball is played from a bunker.

Hand Sanitiser

  • Golfers are strongly advised to bring their own pocket hand sanitiser and to sanitise hands after each hole following handling of the flagstick and/or rake.

But Golf Ireland added the reintroduction of these practices “should not be taken as a sign of the end of the pandemic”.

They explained: “Golf Clubs and golfers must remain vigilant in face of the continued threat COVID-19 possesses, particularly in the form of variants. Players should travel to the club alone, or only with a member of the same household.

“Where Golf Clubs rescind the modifications to the game in the manner outlined above, they are encouraged to keep these measures in reserve. Should the public health situation deteriorate again, Golf Ireland may once again recommend their introduction in line with public health advice at the time.”

You can find the latest Return to Golf Protocol for Northern Ireland here, and can click here for the Republic of Ireland.

Will you be taking the flag out and swapping scorecards or will your club be more cautious? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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