New guidance regarding public exercise during the pandemic has been issued to police – and it could have a profound effect on golf clubs

As the Government extended the coronavirus lockdown by at least three weeks, advice issued to officers in England by the National Police Chiefs’ Council, along with the College of Policing, was revealed.

They released a practical guide produced by the Crown Prosecution Service, covering “what constitutes a reasonable excuse to leave the place where you live” during the restrictions.

It appears to add to the four pillars – staying at home other than shopping for basic necessities, medical need, travelling for work purposes (where people can’t work from home), and one form of exercise a day – that the Government wish everyone to follow during this crisis and what the law, the ‘Health Protection (Coronavirus, Restrictions) (England) Regulations 2020’, might allow.

One very interesting section, on what was ‘likely to be reasonable’, came on the second page of the document and covered exercise.

It said “Driving to countryside and walking (where far more time is spent walking then driving)” came under that banner.

Could that give more ammunition to those seeking to open up golf courses to the public for exercise?

There have been furious arguments between campaigners, golf clubs, and golfers about the merits of doing so.

Those in favour say Britain’s 481,000 acres of green space could be supplemented by another 311,000 acres of golf courses – giving people more chance to exercise while following social distancing guidelines.

A petition to open up courses, posted on Change.org by Friends of the Earth campaigner Guy Shrubsole, has seen support climb slowly and steadily. It currently stands at just over 6,000 signatures.

But his argument is finding increasing favour in other sectors.

On Radio 4’s Today programme on Wednesday, Reverend Lucy Winkett, rector of St James’s Church in Piccadilly, implied in the ‘Thought for the Day’ there was a moral duty in opening up green space for people to use.

Referencing the extra room golf courses could provide – reporting if all were opened to help relieve the pressure on public parks the space available could be increased more than half as much again – she said: “Questions of space and place are not only economic they are moral and spiritual concerns too.

“So let the parks and other green places be primarily for those who’ve not been able to buy themselves space – in order, perhaps, to help them buy themselves more time.”

Then the Sun newspaper got in on the act, stating in an editorial on Thursday: “Making private golf courses open to the public to exercise on would be a game-changer for huge numbers of people.

“Many live nowhere near a park, but DO live near a course. It would increase the green space publicly available by a staggering two-thirds, making crowds less likely.”

Opponents of the proposals had pointed out that in large parts of the country getting to a golf course to exercise would mean driving there – something that might leave people open to enforcement action.

Now, with it being clearly deemed as “lawful to drive for exercise”, one of hurdles getting in the way of using golf courses as additional green space seems to have been removed.

Could it even pave the way for clubs to re-open sooner than might have been expected? We’ll have to wait and see.

Has this advice changed your view on whether golf courses should be opened to use as green space? Would you now take the opportunity to walk your course if clubs allowed it? Let me know in the comments, or tweet me.

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Steve Carroll

A journalist for 23 years, Steve has been immersed in club golf for almost as long. A former captain and committee member, he has passed the Level 3 Rules of Golf exam with distinction having attended the national Tournament Administrators and Referee's Seminar. He has officiated at a host of high-profile tournaments, including Open Regional Qualifying and the PGA Fourball Championship. A member of NCG's Top 100s panel, Steve has a particular love of links golf and is frantically trying to restore his single-figure handicap.

Handicap: 10.9

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