Golf may be being played again in clubs and courses as early next week but only under social-distancing restrictions which may even include temporary new rules.
A shot penalty for touching the flag is included among the measures reportedly drawn up by golf’s governing body the R&A in an attempt to loosening the lockdown on the game, which voluntarily shut down on March 23 as part of the restrictions imposed by central government aimed at containing the coronavirus pandemic.
A report leaked to Scottish golf magazine Bunkered contains a confidential draft from the R&A containing details of how the game can be played as the country comes out of stricter regulations.
It’s understood the document is being given to government agencies to convince them that golf is one sport that can be played while keeping social-distancing rules.
“When the government decides it is safe to begin lifting or loosening restrictions imposed during the Covid-19 pandemic, it is hoped that golf will be one of the sports which will be deemed safe and practical for people to play as they look to enjoy the health benefits of fresh air and exercise in a natural environment,” states the draft report.
“It is vital people do not place themselves at further unnecessary risk. The R&A has carefully considered the social distancing restrictions that are likely to remain in force and devised a set of temporary provisions which will ensure that people can play golf.”
Clubhouses will remain closed, and many common features of courses will be removed, whilst it’s anticipated that every hole will require to have two tees set at least four metres apart to ensure players stay at a distance – even if they are from the same family group.
All human contact with course “furniture” such as flagsticks, carts, trolleys, rakes, ball-washers, refuse bins, communal seating, water fountains and even toilets will be avoided. Clubs can only accept advanced bookings and players will be required to arrive at the course “ready for play” and only allowed to go to the tee 15 minutes before their allotted start time.
No more than two people will be allowed to play together, adds the document, with play staggered at a minimum of ten-minute intervals.
Flagsticks will be allowed but it is “strongly recommended” that signs warning they should not be touched are fitted. The R&A has also allowed golf club committees to set a local rule banning the touching of the flagsticks, and punishing instances by way of a penalty shot.
Hole liners that prevent balls falling into the hole yet allow them to be retrieved without touching fixtures are to be encouraged, states the document.
Players must keep a two metre distance at all times during play, and touching stray balls will also be prohibited. With no rakes, players will be asked to repair surfaces in bunkers as best they can with their clubs and their feet, but “preferred lies” may be enacted in bunkers at each club’s discretion.
Players will complete their own scorecards, and no shaking of hands or contact of any kind is permitted.