You can still play golf provided you ‘keep a distance’

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 19, 2020 09:05

The UK’s chief scientific adviser has responded to a health select committee question about playing golf during the coronavirus crisis by effectively saying it is an activity that is allowable.

Sir Patrick Vallance said: “It is OK – if you keep a distance.”

The question was put forward by Dean Russell MP. He asked: “Exercise is going to be key [especially for older people]. If someone wants to play golf, can they still do that if they’re not close together?”

Sir Patrick Vallance stated: “We’re not asking everyone to be completely isolated. The specific advice is to avoid close contact. A walk is OK if you keep a distance.”

Sir Patrick Vallance

A number of golf clubs have closed their clubhouses but kept their courses open so that golfers can gain the essential health benefits of moderate exercise at this extraordinary time while minimising the risk of becoming infected.

One golf club in London has issued a directive to all its golfers that they must not touch the flag on any of the holes, in a bid to curb the spread of coronavirus.

Epping Golf Course has said it has implemented other measures as well.

©: Tristan Jones

“We will attempt to make sure that scorecards’ registration and payment for drink and food are available through window service to avoid people having to come into the clubhouse if they don’t want to,” stated Epping’s owner, Neil Sjoberg.

Numerous golf events ranging from the Scottish Girls’ Open Championship to The Masters have been postponed or cancelled due to the COVID-19 pandemic. A number of golf clubs have also reported that the virus has hit at least one member, and in most cases the club has remained open.

In response, to assist the golf industry in the UK, BIGGA, the PGA, the GCMA and the R&A have produced this guideline document for UK golf clubs:

‘Your golf facility needs to have a senior group of managers who are in constant contact and can spring in to action if something happens. This should be your club manager / secretary, course manager / head greenkeeper and PGA professional and any other relevant department heads. During a period of heightened risk, meet on a daily basis and provide an update on staff absence, business pressures such as stock levels or machinery maintenance and other matters. When the crisis subsides, this group should continue to meet on a monthly basis to ensure policies are maintained and updated,’ it states.

‘Engage in a dialogue with the other golf clubs in your immediate area and discuss an action plan. If one of your clubs is forced to close, is there a reciprocal arrangement in place to allow members to play at a different facility?’

One golf club manager welcomed the document.

“That was very, very useful as it allowed us to sit down and work out some kind of battleplan,” Simon Payne, secretary at Cowglen in Scotland told The Herald.

“Up until then, I think people were maybe a bit blasé about this but when you consider the wider ramifications, they are huge.

“There are knock on effects for green fees, subscriptions, bookings, our suppliers, from diesel for machinery to drink in the bar. If bar staff or catering staff are off, then takings are down. It’s everything.

“The worst-case scenario is if the greenkeeping staff have to go into isolation, then the course doesn’t get maintained.

“The course is the number one thing for members. You can tell a volunteer how to lock the clubhouse but you can’t suddenly upskill someone to cut a green.

“We are coupling up with other clubs in the area with a kind of buddy system to help each other out just in case.

“Our course manager has a group of trusted friends at other courses so there will at least be a limited maintenance to keep things going should the worst happen.”

“People are handling pins, they are handling ball washers and rakes in bunkers. We started going through potential risks and they just grow and grow.

“Like a lot of clubs, the over-65s are a relatively large element here. Their health and well-being on our premises is paramount.

“The older golfers may now be considering just staying away and it will be interesting to monitor numbers going forward.

“While everybody has to take responsibility, we’ve just tried to do as much as possible to at least give members the confidence that we can operate as best we can.

“Many clubs are living hand to mouth. The impact of this could be hard to take for some.”

“I’ve been here for 30 years and the weather recently has been the worst I can remember in terms of getting out to play. But the addition of the coronavirus has made it a whole lot worse.

“It’s a minefield. We don’t know how long it will be like this for. The Beast from the East a couple of years ago was the first time we had ever closed the place down entirely. Nobody was on site, it just shut.

“But this virus is a different kettle of fish. It’s the unknown. When the snow melted, you knew we would be back. But who knows with this?”

A Scottish Golf spokesman added: “In these difficult times it is important to highlight the health benefits of golf as a sport that allows players to exercise outdoors in the fresh air where the risk of contracting COVID-19 is low,” in response to the release of this document.

UPDATE: All UK golf clubs have now been told to close with immediate effect.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir March 19, 2020 09:05
Write a comment


  1. Rosey March 21, 15:16

    We have returned from abroad with no symptoms. Can we play golf?

    Reply to this comment
    • Adrian March 21, 17:39

      Provided you have no direct contact with anything anyone else touches, or direct contact with anyone else, then yes.

      This applies whether you’ve been abroad or not – and right now the UK is the 7th fastest growing in the world for deaths, so it’s actually most of the world needs to be wary if they’ve been here.

      Reply to this comment
  2. Ron Cartwright March 20, 17:37

    I have difficulty bending down and have used a pick-up device on my putter handle for years. I’m 75 and golf is my fitness and exercise regime. I travel by myself to the course and keep my distance from other players.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Andy March 18, 17:19

    Play gimmes or get a retriever that fits on your putter handle

    Reply to this comment
  4. Nick March 18, 11:12

    I would say bring on a golf course, away from other people, is pretty much the safest place you can be right now.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Golferurs March 17, 17:55

    Most of the clubs and courses in Europe are all ready closed

    Reply to this comment
  6. Alistair March 17, 12:41

    A number of golf clubs are doing this: While the course at Bruntsfield Links Golfing Society remains open to members, the clubhouse at the historic capital venue has been shutdown due to coronavirus

    Reply to this comment
  7. Wanda March 16, 18:56

    Golfcourses in the Netherlands are all closed…..;-((

    Reply to this comment
  8. Matthew March 16, 18:50

    How do you get the ball out of the hole? Your going to touch the flag by simply reaching in. You also touch the ball which then touches the hole, which then touches the next persons golf ball. Lol, please stop this complete nonsense!!!

    Reply to this comment
    • Golferurs March 17, 17:55

      Most of the clubs and courses in Europe are all ready closed

      Reply to this comment
    • Bobski March 18, 12:56

      The club inserts the hole 10cm to rest 10cm higher than the green level and if your ball hits the cup it is regarded as in!

      Reply to this comment
    • Baley March 19, 13:32

      The suggestion is to raise the cup above the ground and once your ball hits it you have holed out. This would prevent any contact. Nonsense is being defeatist and letting the virus beat the golf clubs, which will end up closing if people don’t renew memberships.

      Reply to this comment
    • Ron Cartwright March 20, 17:35

      I have difficulty bending down and have used a pick-up device on my putter handle for years. I’m 75 and golf is my fitness and exercise regime. I travel by myself to the course and keep my distance from other players.

      Reply to this comment
    • Allan March 21, 14:33

      We have inserts in the cup. This sits a ball depth below the grass level, so you are able to collect your ball without touching the flag.

      Reply to this comment
    • peter March 21, 15:32

      at altrincham they turned the pots upside down so the ball only went into the pot a bit so you could easily pick up your ball without touching the flag or the cup – unfortunately the silly sods closed the course on friday even though golf is not an indoor leisure centre

      Reply to this comment
    • Gareth March 21, 17:29

      use a pair of tongs

      Reply to this comment
    • Darren March 22, 10:11

      It’s not rocket science. At the club I work at we’ve been bringing in the flags in. Play to the centre of the green. The cups are out of the ground by a half inch if it hits the cup it’s in. Plus if you do touch anything else use a gloved hand. Us green staff will wear gloves at all times. Otherwise we’re about 200 yards from anyone most of the day. Most greenkeeping teams are relatively small so direct contact is at an absolute minimum. The clubhouse and locker rooms are already closed so again minimise gathering people together.

      Reply to this comment
  9. Peter March 16, 17:57

    In some markets, there is probably less “worry” and concern in operating ! However, in these times, I’d question being open at all ! If local authorities are confident the “rate of spread” is low and in control, some level of limited play might be acceptable and all precautions should be taken ! Including what might sound “silly !” Every club should have a written Safety and Security Procedure Plan compiled with local authority assistance and hired experts ! These plans should define everyone’s roles, not only managers. So many are unprepared with no plans ! Each plan specific to each club as levels of potential are quite different ! In NYC we’ve survived many crisis’ because we had a plan. And…back-ups !

    Reply to this comment
  10. Graham March 16, 15:46

    Even with a gloved hand??

    Reply to this comment
View comments

Write a comment


Join Our Mailing List

Read the latest issues

Advertise With Us

For editorial enquiries in the magazine or online, contact:

For advertising enquiries in the magazine or online, contact: