Guidance issued to UK golf clubs on how to reopen their courses

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir April 30, 2020 11:00

The R&A has issued guidance, ranging from introducing 10 minute tee time gaps to a temporary rule that a ball is holed with the next stroke if it is within 12 inches of the hole, to golf clubs regarding measures they should implement when golf courses can reopen.

Other advice given includes that clubhouses should be closed but there could be access to toilets, clubs are to remind golfers to stay two metres apart and that stroke play competitions should be avoided.

The guidance has been submitted to the UK government to show that golf can resume shortly, provided social distancing measures are followed.

One MP has told the BBC he has read the guidance and it shows that ‘golf can return very safely’.

It is not currently known when golf courses can reopen in the UK, although venues all over the world have been opening in recent days, and courses all over Europe are set to reopen in May. UK politicians and golf’s governing bodies have also been in dialogue, with both suggesting that the reopening of golf courses will be in the first wave of lockdown easing restrictions.

The R&A’s guidance covers five main areas: course set-up, before, during and after the round and the Rules of Golf. This guidance forms part of a submission to the government and may be subject to change.

Image by Tristan Jones

For ‘course set up’, it states that:

  • All rakes and ball-retrievers to be removed.
  • Ball washers and drinking fountains to be covered up.
  • Benches and bins to be removed, covered or sign-posted in such a way that players don’t touch them.
  • All other removable items to be removed, except that stakes defining areas of the course can be treated as immovable obstructions.

For holes and flagstick, the guidance states: ‘Flagsticks can be retained but it is strongly recommended that a sign is put on the flagstick stating that it is not to be touched.

A method of inserting the hole liner to be used that means that all of the ball does not fall below the surface of the putting green and can be easily retrieved by handling the ball only.’

Practice areas, including practice nets, should also be closed unless safe sanitising practices can be guaranteed.

For ‘before the round’, The R&A states that clubs should ‘organise a system of booking and allocation of tee times that ensures the safety of staff and golfers. The maximum number of golfers in a group per tee time to be confirmed by the club / facility and must be in accordance with any government requirements. There is to be a minimum of 10 minute intervals between tee times, but longer intervals may be more appropriate depending on the club / facility.

‘The clubhouse and locker room facilities will be closed. Limited essential access (for example to use the toilets) may be allowed by the club / facility.

‘Clubs to communicate in advance with golfers to advise on social distancing requirements that are being applied on arrival, for example not leaving cars until a certain time before their tee time.

‘Clubs to have procedures in place to ensure social distancing requirements in the area of the professional’s shop or starter’s building in advance of golfers teeing off.

‘No trolleys, carts or other items to be available for hire unless safe sanitising practices can be guaranteed.

‘Clubs to have procedures in place for the practice putting green, for example giving priority of use to the players in the next group due to tee off.’

For ‘during the round’, The R&A states: ‘Remind golfers to keep two metres apart. Remind golfers not to touch stray balls.

‘With no rakes allowed on the course, remind golfers to make their very best efforts to smooth the sand using their club and / or their feet.

‘Remind golfers not to touch the flagstick.’

Image from Facebook

For ‘after the round’, ‘remind golfers that social distancing is as important after a round as it is during the round, so when the round is over they must leave the course and the club immediately so that there are no gatherings around the clubhouse area.’

For ‘Rules of Golf’: ‘It is recommended that non-competition play is used during the initial period of golf being played, and that stroke play competitions involving players in different groups are avoided.

‘If competitive stroke play is played, a method of scoring needs to be used that does not require any handling or exchanging of scorecards.

‘Committees may choose to allow methods of scoring in stroke play that do not strictly comply with Rule 3.3b, or do not comply with the normal methods used under Rule 3.3b.

‘As provided in the Rules of Golf, scorecards can be electronic, which could include emailing or texting scores to the committee.

‘If the committee feels that the enjoyment of the game is being significantly affected by there being no rakes, it may introduce preferred lies in bunkers and provide that a player may place a ball in the bunker within one club-length of the original spot and not nearer to the hole than that spot.

‘Golfers are required to leave the flagstick in the hole at all times and not to touch it. As a temporary provision, flagsticks can be used for the purpose of player safety which do not meet the specifications in Part 8 of the Equipment Rules.

‘The hole liner (sometimes referred to as the hole ‘cup’) is to be set in a way that means that all of the ball cannot be below the surface of the putting green, so the ball is considered holed if any part of it is below the surface of the putting green.

‘To minimise the need to lift the ball from the hole, it is recommended that the committee provides that a ball is holed with the next stroke if it is within 12 inches of the hole (which is just over the length of a standard putter grip). This does not prevent a player in match play conceding a stroke that is outside this length.

‘The committee may decide to have the hole liner sitting above the surface of the green and treat a ball as holed if it strikes the liner.’

The chairman of the UK Parliament’s All-Party Group for Golf, Craig Tracey MP, said this guidance shows that golf can return ‘very safely’.

Craig Tracey MP

Speaking to BBC Radio 4’s Today programme, Tracey said: “The five guidelines are comprehensive and enable golf to return very safely. There has been an awful lot of work going on behind the scenes for the last four or five weeks on this.

“Golf is exercise by stealth. There is a lot of medical research that shows golf can increase life expectancy, it reduces heart disease and can increase strength and balance for older participants with a low risk of injury. There are also mental health benefits being out in the open air.”

Tracey’s comments come as more politicians are working with golf clubs to help them deal with the crisis.

See offers on a golf ball retriever.

Wendy Chamberlain MP has said she will host an online meeting of Fife golf clubs to discuss the effect the pandemic has had on the industry while Joe FitzPatrick, Minister for Public Health, Sport and Wellbeing in Scotland, has responded to a question from Labour MSP James Kelly, who asked: “I have been approached by a number of constituents who point out the benefits to physical and mental well-being by being able to play golf, which obviously they are unable to do due to the lockdown. What consideration has the minister and officials given to looking at golf being able to take place once the lockdown is lifted, bearing in mind social distancing can take place on the golf course?”

FitzPatrick replied: “Scottish Golf is one of the organisations I am looking to meet in the near future to discuss their particular needs.”

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir April 30, 2020 11:00
Write a comment


  1. Bob May 15, 19:39

    My club is proposing to open but the clubhouse inc changing rooms and toilets is to remain closed.
    Is this legal or must toilets be available?

    Reply to this comment
  2. Joseph May 13, 18:21

    Finally getting on the course today for the first time this spring. I am anxious to play. It will be interesting to see how the social aspects of the game are managed.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Ant May 11, 15:36

    Great choice of pictures with this article. Someone holding the flagstick, two in a buggy and green keepers not socially distancing…

    Reply to this comment
  4. Andy May 2, 10:19

    It does mention the number of golfers… pretty clear instruction in fact. “The maximum number of golfers in a group per tee time to be confirmed by the club/facility and must be in accordance with any government requirements.” – so if the government say you still can’t meet people from outside your household in public, you can’t feasibly play golf with your friends.

    I doubt they will, and I can only see golf re-starting with a general easing of government restrictions. If it was right now, you could only play in a with members of your own household.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Michael JK April 30, 18:21

    I see know reason golf can’t be opened world-wide with the appropriate safety measures in place!

    Reply to this comment
  6. Chris OC April 30, 17:28

    I really hope it can return soon. However, 10 minutes is nothing for slow players.

    Reply to this comment
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