The UK government is not ‘following the science’ when it comes to golf

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 17, 2021 07:22

A freedom of information request by a solicitor about coronavirus risks from participating in golf has found that the UK government does not know what risks specifically playing golf actually carries.

Amid a backdrop of research emerging that Covid-19 transmission risks from playing golf are likely to be extremely low, Ian Hodgkinson from Hodgkinson Legal submitted a freedom of information request to the Department for Digital, Culture, Media & Sport (DCMS) at the end of January.

He asked: ‘What advice and guidance has been given in relation to the playing of golf? Does the government have any evidence of the playing of golf outside causing the transmission of any virus? Please exclude any cases of transmission within clubhouses.’

The government replied stating: ‘I can confirm that DCMS does not have information within scope of your request. Please note that this department does not produce guidance for every sport. For advice on guidance for specific sports, you would again be best advised to refer to the relevant national governing body.’

However, in almost ironic timing, that national body – England Golf – has written to the government to say that ‘golf can be played safely during any stage of a pandemic’. England Golf also said the November lockdown was ‘counter-productive’ and that it was “extremely disappointed with the news, having made a strong case in recent months to keep golf open during national lockdowns,” regarding the current lockdown.

Ian Hodgkinson said: “The government’s reluctance to act quicker in opening golf courses should not be allowed to go unchallenged and certainly not on the spurious grounds that they are following advice and guidance.

“The idea that children should not be able to play sport in the open air but could sit together in enclosed spaces [at school] never did stand up to scrutiny. Nor that two people from different households can go for a walk together (in my case along a very congested canal towpath) whereas two members of the same household cannot play socially distanced golf together in the wide open spaces of a golf course.”

Golf courses in England are expected to reopen at the end of March, and only at first on a two-ball basis.

This is despite recent research finding that the ‘level of [Covid-19] transmission from playing golf is likely to be extremely low’ and has led to calls that an expert in physical activity joins the UK’s SAGE advisory group.

New research has also fount that the chance of being infected with Covid while outdoors is ‘massively reduced’.

Furthermore, scientists have found that the risks are particularly low in fully open spaces such as golf courses.

Researchers found that fresh air disperses and dilutes the virus, and it helps to evaporate the liquid droplets in which it is carried.

On top of that, ultraviolet light from the sun should kill any virus that’s out in the open.

Even so, there are a handful of cases where it’s believed that infections did happen outside.

One study found that two men in China talking face-to-face for at least 15 minutes was enough to spread the virus – so the advice is to avoid being face-to-face if you’re outside with somebody else and less than two metres apart.

As for the virus being on outdoor surfaces such as flagpoles, researchers in the US found the virus on the handles of rubbish bins and the buttons at pedestrian crossings.

They reckon this may have led to infections in the area, though at a relatively low level compared with other ways of spreading the virus.

Many scientists now think that the amount of virus likely to be left on a surface would be minimal, and would disperse within an hour or two.

“The chance of transmission through inanimate surfaces [outdoors] is very small,” says Prof Emmanuel Goldman of Rutgers University.


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir February 17, 2021 07:22
Write a comment


  1. Kevin S February 25, 12:26

    I agree, just come back from spain, where outdoor sports are allowed, even when shops and restaurants closed>
    mental health is surely as important and physical

    Reply to this comment
  2. Harry K February 22, 12:07

    I would say virtually zero! Golf has never been banned here in Mississippi and I know of no one from my club that got Covid from the course. Several measures were taken to ensure social distancing like non-family memebers using their own carts, ball washers and bunker rakes were removed. Pool noodles were placed on flag sticks so you didn’t have to remove the sick to get your ball etc. No issues at all! I probably played close to 100 rounds since last March with zero problems.

    Reply to this comment
  3. Voice of reason February 20, 00:03

    As usual this Government says they are following the science but dont have any common sense when it comes to outdoor sports. With clubhouses closed do they realise how far apart golfers are in their own groups. There are many families who could have continued to play together all through the lockout but they shut the courses carte blank. Yet you can stand in a queue at a covid testing station where you are more likely to catch it if you don’t have it.. Ride in a bus. Travel on a train. Get in a taxi.???. Morons spring to mind

    Reply to this comment
  4. Uniglass February 19, 13:52

    My family all play golf, five of us. We didn’t get COVID from golf, but, because my wife is a teacher, a child has infected three teachers, including my wife, our family and the other families. I do t know anyone who caught COVID playing any non contact outdoor sport.

    Reply to this comment
  5. Gurr February 19, 11:43

    So if the National body say yes , why are we not playing golf? Ironic indeed!

    Reply to this comment
  6. KAllen February 18, 19:29

    Boris, Whitty & Vallance probably don’t know what golf is

    Reply to this comment
  7. PGA BMG February 18, 17:25

    No Science to keep Golf Courses shut !!

    Reply to this comment
    • Voice of reason February 19, 23:59

      As usual this Government says they are following the science but dont have any common sense when it comes to outdoor sports. With clubhouses closed do they realise how far apart golfers are in their own groups. There are many families who could have continued to play together all through the lockout but they shut the courses carte blank. Yet you can stand in a queue at a covid testing station where you are more likely to catch it if you don’t have it.. Ride in a bus. Travel on a train. Get in a taxi.???. Morons spring to mind

      Reply to this comment
  8. djm February 18, 13:27

    Supporters of strangling the country by lockdown always demand ‘What would you have done?’ when confronted with criticism of the Government’s unprecedented policy for dealing with Covid.

    They assume, as backers of crazy policies always do, that there is no alternative to mass house arrest, enormous police powers, Maoist travel bans and the crippling of large parts of the economy.

    Well, there is an alternative. Sitting in the Government archives is a 70-page document called UK Influenza Pandemic Preparedness Strategy 2011. Don’t be put off by that ‘influenza’. The plan could easily be adapted to deal with a coronavirus or any similar threat.

    Agreed by all four governments of the UK, it was revised after the 2009 H1N1 influenza pandemic. It is typical of careful, commonsense UK state planning before the hysteria outbreak of March 23, 2020.

    But it was ditched in a moment of madness. As the noted Government adviser Neil Ferguson explained, the spectacle of a health crisis in Italy persuaded British authorities to follow the Chinese model instead.

    He described how Sage, the Government’s scientific advisory group, had watched as China’s despots embarked on an unheard-of form of disease control by shutting down an entire province.

    ‘They claimed to have flattened the curve. I was sceptical at first. I thought it was a massive cover-up by the Chinese. But as the data accrued, it became clear it was an effective policy.’

    Then, observing the crisis in Italy, Sage asked itself whether such ferocious methods could be applied here.

    ‘It’s a Communist one-party state, we said. We couldn’t get away with it in Europe, we thought… And then Italy did it. And we realised we could.’

    Note the words ‘get away with it’,

    But the document, can be found on the internet here

    It is very concerned with maintaining freedom and keeping society open, listing as objectives: ‘Minimise the potential impact of a pandemic on society and the economy by: Supporting the continuity of essential services, including the supply of medicines and protecting critical national infrastructure as far as possible. Supporting the continuation of everyday activities as far as practicable. Upholding the rule of law and the democratic process. Preparing to cope with the possibility of significant numbers of additional deaths. Promoting a return to normality and the restoration of disrupted services at the earliest opportunity.’ It stresses ‘Proportionality: the response to a pandemic should be no more and no less than that necessary in relation to the known risks.’

    It relies on centuries of experience and good practice, planning to quarantine the sick rather than the healthy. It recommends simple hygiene. It supports school closures in some circumstances but this is because influenza seriously affects the young and is known to be spread through schools.

    And it has interesting things to say about masks: ‘Although there is a perception that the wearing of facemasks by the public in the community and household setting may be beneficial, there is in fact very little evidence of widespread benefit from their use in this setting.’

    On the closing of borders and restricting travel, it says: ‘Modelling suggests imposing a 90 per cent restriction on all air travel to the UK at the point a pandemic emerges would only delay the peak of a pandemic wave by one to two weeks. Even a 99.9 per cent travel restriction might delay a pandemic wave by only two months.

    ‘During 2009 it became clear the pandemic virus had already spread widely before international authorities were alerted, suggesting that in any case the point of pandemic emergence had been missed by several weeks. The economic, political and social consequences of border closures would also be very substantial.’

    On the banning of public gatherings, it says: ‘There is very limited evidence that restrictions on mass gatherings will have any significant effect on influenza virus transmission. Large public gatherings or crowded events where people may be in close proximity are an important indicator of “normality” and may help maintain public morale during a pandemic.’

    It adds: ‘There is also a lack of scientific evidence on the impact of internal travel restrictions on transmission, and attempts to impose such restrictions would have wide-reaching implications for business and welfare. For these reasons, the working presumption will be that Government will not impose any such restrictions. The emphasis will instead be on encouraging all those who have symptoms to follow the advice to stay at home and avoid spreading their illness.’

    These thoughtful plans existed and were over-ridden. Instead the methods of the Chinese police state were copied.

    There was an alternative. There still is. It can hardly be claimed that the repressive panic policy which we have followed has been a great success……

    Reply to this comment
  9. Stuart H February 18, 12:43

    Obviously the Solicitor has nothing better to do.

    Getting back to the issue of risk its not playing golf that is the risk but how people behave at the Golf Club. Since the virus arrived when I have played Golf it has only been playing Golf. For example I have not been in the Professional Shop or the Clubhouse. Yet I can assure you I saw many people breaking the rules and that is exactly where the risk is.

    Last August we went to the annual Golf Week at Princes Golf Club in Sandwich and stayed at the lodge on the Course. I have to say the precautions they took were first class both at the Golf club and the Lodge and at no point during the week did I feel there was a risk.

    Reply to this comment
  10. KP February 18, 09:44

    It would appear that 2 ball golf is no problem. However I believe this to be an invitation to some to take it further. Be honest and ask yourself has any of these points happened at your club?
    – 2 ball becomes a 4 ball with mates on the 2nd hole?
    – Half a dozen 2 ball’s waiting to tee off with no real social distancing?
    – Green fees paying £££ being ‘fitted in’ already crowded tee times
    – Takeaway means beer tents on the patio
    – The gathering of the usual ‘swindles’ in the car park.
    Perhaps this is why the government bring in these rules as the public cannot be trusted and will always try to get around rules. It is a shame because 2 ball golf is as safe as it gets.

    Reply to this comment
  11. ErnieLong February 18, 04:04

    Its not following the science and only does so when it suits them. Its a political decision made by politicians who have an agenda.

    Reply to this comment
  12. Gordon February 17, 18:16

    Many thanks for the post, invaluable info.
    My question is why has a solicitor and not a golf governing body have the foresight to issue this request?

    Reply to this comment
  13. Dario February 17, 17:24

    an easy and eye-opening reading….

    Reply to this comment
  14. TT February 17, 14:26

    And why are we not surprised?

    Reply to this comment
  15. Gabriel Ice February 17, 13:13

    We are being sacrificed in favour of simplicity of message. The whole of outdoor sport is in the same boat.
    If this was making a difference to fighting the virus then fine, but we all know that it isn’t.

    Reply to this comment
    • Mike February 17, 16:43

      Absolutely agree! We’ve been out walking this morning in open countryside and encountered far more people than we would in 2 ball on my local course… ridiculous.

      Reply to this comment
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