As the prime minister laid out his roadmap for loosening lockdown restrictions, golf's governing bodies have reacted to the news. Steve Carroll reports

The date for golf courses reopening in England will be March 29, a key Government minister has revealed.

As prime minister Boris Johnson unveiled his roadmap out of coronavirus lockdown to the House of Commons, Nadhim Zahawi, the vaccines minister, had earlier confirmed golf’s return on BBC Breakfast.

Establishing that schools would reopen on March 8, he added: “On March 29, we will see outdoor sports, and of course, the ability for two families or the rule of six to meet outdoors.”

Asked to be clear on what that meant in terms of socialising, and being able to see family and friends, Zahawi continued: “So on March 8 it’s two people being able to meet outdoors for a coffee or socially. On March 29, it’ll be two families or the rule of six meeting outdoors and outdoor sports: tennis, golf and other outdoor sports, including team sports, will return.”

Golf clubs in England have been closed since the third Covid lockdown came into force on January 5. They’ve remained shut despite entreaties from England Golf and the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf, who earlier this month issued a report – backed by scientific advice – claiming golf could safely be played during lockdown.

Addressing Parliament, where he laid out a four step plan for reopening, Johnson said: “As part of step one, we will go further and make limited changes on March 29 when schools go on Easter holidays. It will become possible to meet in limited numbers outdoors, where the risk is lower.

“So the rule of six will return outdoors, including in private gardens, and outdoor meetings of two households will also be permitted on the same basis, so that families in different circumstances can meet.

“Outdoor sports facilities such as tennis and basketball courts, and open air swimming pools, will be able to reopen and formally organised outdoor sports will resume, subject to guidance.

“From this point on March 29, people will no longer be legally required to stay at home, but many lockdown restrictions will remain. People should continue to work from home where they can and minimise all travel, wherever possible.”

Johnson added non-essential retail, which would be expected to include pro shops, could reopen from April 12 if conditions are met, while up to six people could meet outdoors in pubs from that date as part of the second step.

The PM told the Commons the third step, which would come into force no earlier than May 17, would remove the rule of six requirement outdoors, while allowing two households to mix indoors in pub and restaurants.

Johnson outlined the potential for all legal limits on social contact to be removed from no earlier than June 21.

A published document on the Government’s website, Covid-19 Response – Spring 21, gave more details on the roadmap steps and said of the March 29 date: “The Government will allow outdoor sports facilities to reopen, broadening the options for outdoor exercise and recreation.

“These facilities, such as tennis and basketball courts, and swimming pools, can be used by people in line with the wider social contact limits.”

In a statement, England Golf expressed dismay the return would not be happening sooner.

“England Golf is extremely disappointed that the scientific evidence presented to government detailing how the sport can be played in a Covid-secure manner has not resulted in a return to play date earlier than March 29.

“We will now examine the details of the Government’s roadmap before making further comment and working with our community of clubs, counties, and golfers to prepare for the game’s safe return.”

While the British & International Golf Greenkeepers’ Association (BIGGA) also indicated their disappointment, they welcomed a “notice period” that would help teams across the country get ahead of the curve.

“BIGGA is acutely aware that golfers are eager to get back out on the course and start enjoying the limitless physical and mental health benefits of our wonderful sport,” a statement said.

“However, as golfers have found in Scotland, where courses have remained open for limited play, this has been an incredibly wet and difficult winter and many greenkeepers have reported being able to do very limited maintenance throughout the colder months.  

“As such, while disappointed that the restart of golf will not be until 29 March in England, BIGGA welcomes the notice period as it will enable golf facilities to complete any essential winter maintenance and prepare the course for play to a standard that will not be detrimental to the long-term health of the facility. 

“Over the coming weeks BIGGA will be working alongside the governing bodies in golf to provide information regarding reasonable expectations of course presentation, so that returning golfers are aware of the challenges greenkeepers have faced with regards climate, staffing and COVID-19 restrictions and to ensure a safe, happy and prosperous return to golf for everyone.”

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf, meanwhile, added: “A meeting of the APPG with industry bodies is scheduled to take place this Wednesday (February 24) to consider the impact of the statement on the sport in England, and the full details are now being reviewed by the industry bodies, specifically the impact of the different levels on different aspects of golf including playing, coaching, retail, and club fitting, as well the implications for driving ranges and practice facilities.”

In the wider industry, Alastair Sinclair, chief executive of PlayMoreGolf, which is the UK’s biggest golf membership operator, said: “For thousands of golfers in England, this news comes as a relief and a renewed sense of optimism towards a new normal. The last 12 months have been physically, emotionally and mentally draining for everyone and we hope that golf’s return can undo some of the negative mental health impacts. 

“2021 is an important year for golf, as a sport and leisure activity, to appeal to a wider audience. How as an industry we present ourselves to the consumer is crucial not just to attract new but retaining current golfers to the sport.” 

What do you make of the decision to reopen courses on March 29? 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. Steve is currently playing: Driver: TaylorMade Stealth 2 3-Wood: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Hybrids: TaylorMade Stealth 2 Irons: TaylorMade Stealth 5-A Wedge Wedges: TaylorMade Hi-Toe 54 and 58 Putter: Sik Sho Ball: TaylorMade TP5

Handicap: 11.3

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