ENGLAND Golf chief executive JEREMY TOMLINSON has written to club members across the country on the latest developments since the relaxing of COVID-19 lockdown restrictions allowed the sport to resume.
IS IT really only four weeks since golf was given the green light by government?
We are just at the beginning of our journey back, yet there’s been so much activity crammed into this first, hectic month.
I’m pleased to say that the positivity buzzing around our beloved game continues to keep us all going through extraordinary times.
Adrenaline has helped conquer fatigue.
For me, it’s been heartening to see a value once again being placed on membership – and the visitor golfer experience – since we all pulled together to re-open courses and facilities on May 13.
England Golf exists to promote the amateur and club game. And I am proud to bang the drum on our game’s behalf.
But we should not make the mistake of undervaluing our game. Too often our sport has sold itself short.
It may have been largely accidental, but the spike in recruitment over last few weeks has proved two key things – golf club membership remains relevant and affordable.
Golf has been forced to hit the reset button. But the reboot gives everyone a chance to start afresh and carry this momentum forward.
Feedback from clubs ‘very positive’
Each time I’ve been to my home club at Marlborough, visited Bassett Down Golf Complex, in Wiltshire, or spoken to my pals at Swindon’s Broome Manor, I’ve felt the energy for myself.
And, of course, through the national golfing network, I know this story has been repeated up and down the country.
But we must also take a breath as not everything in the garden is rosy.
Clubhouses remain closed and cash is tight. So I’m not naïve to the prospect that the toughest times might yet lie ahead for many of our clubs.
Re-forecasting, re-evaluating, re-planning and, in some cases, re-inventing are all potentially the order of the day, as we look to maximise opportunities and stabilise finances while coming out of this crisis.
Within a week we can all look forward to visiting our pro shops, as non-essential retail re-opens from Monday…
So, if there are a few pounds burning holes in pockets, we can once again chase the “Holy Grail” of a perfect game – with the help of another new club or piece of equipment!
There’s no doubt too that the return of fourball play from June 1 has also been a game-changer for golf clubs.
I can’t stress to you how much hard work went on behind the scenes to allow golf to quickly reach a point where fourballs were considered safe to resume under government regulations on outdoor recreation.
‘Fourballs have helped clubs enormously’
For clubs, fourball play has helped reduce the pressure on tee-times.
Although, as with many things, I’m well aware of the healthy, ongoing debate on the merits of more players per tee-time.
It felt harsh to turn away golfers or ration slots to golfers already deprived of their sporting fix after months of enforced closure.
Fourballs have allowed clubs to get more members on the course, re-introduce guests and accept visitor bookings.
Of course, there are golfers who enjoyed the freedom of two-ball golf again. I get that.
Slow play is a curse in a fast-moving society and a sub three-hour round is a joy.
For many of our older golfers, there are sound health reasons why two-ball play and limiting social contact remains a wise choice with coronavirus still a threat.
I’ve been pleased to discover so many clubs listening to members and setting aside times for two-balls, while also re-introducing the fourball format.
A “best of both worlds” policy seems to be sensible and right.
England championships all set for resumption
Competitions are also an integral part of club life for many members.
After advising clubs and golfers to find their “sea legs” when it came to social distancing and sanitising guidance, I believe the June 1 date was a good time to re-introduce a competitive element to play for those who wanted it.
Safety must always remain the priority. But there’s no reason why competitions cannot take place within the regulations.
Here at England Golf, championship director James Crampton and his team are working towards our own events starting back on July 28
We wanted to offer light at the end of the tunnel by keeping a revised schedule in place. And that shaft of sunshine is getting brighter by the day.
Just as golf clubs eagerly anticipate the day when clubhouses can safely re-open, we too need a change in lockdown regulations to allow hotels to function and our events to tee off.
If the government’s roadmap out of lockdown remains on track, we will hopefully receive good news on that front soon…
In the spirit of golf’s return it was brilliant to see our friends at the European Tour promote a “UK Swing” as the professional game gears up for a comeback.
Slowly, safely and surely golf is beginning to find its feet. By continuing to work together, we will soon stand tall.
Jeremy Tomlinson, England Golf chief executive