Golf will be open for business on May 18 but it won't be business as usual.
While the easing of Covid-19 restrictions is welcomed by all, many will still be in place during the early stages of the Government’s easing of lockdown measures.
Golf's governing bodies on the island of Ireland – the GUI and the ILGU – are waiting for the Government to clear up some of the finer details before they release their official protocol for golfing under Phase 1 of the Government roadmap.
While many questions remain unanswered, we've put together a rough guide to what may lie ahead.
We’ve based our list of 'frequently asked questions' on comments made by ILGU, GUI or Golf Ireland officials this week and the list of guidelines published by the R&A for a safe return to golf in the Covid-19 era.
Question: The 2km zone from your home that is allowable for exercise has been extended to 5km. Does this mean I can play golf within 5km of home when Phase 1 of the easing of restrictions begins on May 18?
Answer: No. While the official protocol has yet to be issued by the GUI and ILGU, they have already said that only club members will be allowed to play.
Members living more than 5km from their home club will have to wait until restrictions are eased further.
As the ILGU's Sinéad Heraty said this week: "We would be advocating the 5km limit for golf is maintained and that’s what Government guidelines are saying."
Question: I live within 5km of my local club, can I pay a green fee?
Answer: No. All the latest comments from the official governing bodies, which will be replaced by Golf Ireland in 2021, have been that golf will initially be restricted to members only and bookings must be made online. Members will be expected to self-police, as they do with the Rules of Golf.
Question: I live within 20km of my club, when can I play again?
Answer: The restriction on exercise will be extended from 5km to 20km during Phase 2, which begins on June 8.
Question: What about the golfers who live more than 20km from their clubs, which is the norm in rural areas?
Answer: It is expected that golfers living more than 20km from their clubs will be able to play their course from July 20 when Phase 4 of the roadmap is implemented.
Question: Are clubs in Northern Ireland also opening to members living within 5km on May 18?
Answer: No. Clubs in the North remain closed though Kevin Stevens, the GUI's Ulster Branch Executive officer, hopes golf can resume there on May 18 or shortly afterwards. So far, there has been no update from the UK government.
Citizens of Northern Ireland can cross the border on unnecessary journeys without fear of prosecution in the Republic, which has led to fears that golfers from the North will head to clubs situated in the Republic on May 18.
Question: Will I be able to use the clubhouse from May 18?
Answer: No. In principle, clubhouses, bars and restaurants will be closed during the early stages of the easing of restrictions.
Question: Can I use the toilets at the club?
Answer: Limited essential access may be allowed by the club/facility. This will be clarified in the GUI and ILGU protocol, or by the club.
Question: I'm a member and I live within 5km of my club. Can I just turn up at my club and play on May 18?
Answer: No. You must book online beforehand. The GUI and ILGU have asked clubs not to publish timesheets until they release their criteria, including recommendations on group sizes and intervals between groups.
Golf Ireland CEO Mark Kennelly said: "In the initial stages, we will be saying 'established members only' as that will help us to control the flow and ensure physical distancing.
"Golf will begin to reopen [fully] in line with the phased ending of restrictions. And over the summer, golf will play a part in rebooting the domestic tourism industry, so we imagine in later phases that green fees and visitors will become an option."
Question: Will fourballs be permitted?
Answer: That's uncertain. While the Government has said that from May 18, "up to four people who don’t live together can meet outdoors while keeping at least two metres apart", we will have to wait until the official protocol is published to find out.
Question: Can golfers 70 or over play on May 18?
Answer: No. As of Tuesday, the over-70s have been advised to only leave their homes in limited circumstances. "For people who are cocooning the public health advice is to continue to do so," Taoiseach Leo Varadkar said.
"However, it will still be possible to go for a walk or a drive within 5km of your home if you avoid all contact with other people."
Question: What kind of health and safety measures are likely on the golf course or at the club?
Answer: Mark Kennelly, CEO of Golf Ireland, said this week that golfers will not be touching rakes or flagpoles. While flagsticks can be retained, the R&A recommends that a sign is put on the flagstick stating that it is not to be touched. Rakes will also be removed from bunkers and golfers encouraged to smooth prints as best they can.
Question: Will social distancing rules apply?
Answer: Yes. Golfers will be required to comply with the rules on social distancing throughout. Some temporary provisions concerning the Rules of Golf will also be necessary to ensure safe play.
Question: Of what social distancing measures should I be aware?
Answer: Golfers should stay more than two metres apart when walking to the ball, searching for a ball and playing shots. They should not touch stray golf balls.
Question: Will I be able to use drinking fountains and benches, for example?
Answer: No. While the official protocol has yet to be published by the GUI/ILGU, the R&A recommends that ball washers and drinking fountains are to be covered up and benches and bins removed, covered or signposted in such a way that players don't touch them.
All other removable items are to be removed, except that stakes defining areas of the course can be treated by players as immovable obstructions.
Question: What about picking the ball out of the hole?
Answer: The hole liner can be inserted in such a way 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.
Question: Can I use the practice ground or practice net?
Answer: The R&A recommends to governing bodies that practice areas, including practice nets, are to be closed unless safe sanitising practices can be guaranteed.
Question: What can I do when I arrive at the club?
Answer: The R&A recommends that clubs organise a system of booking and allocation of tee-times that ensures the safety of staff and golfers.
Golfers will be asked to arrive shortly before their tee time and to leave directly afterwards.
Golf Ireland CEO, Mark Kennelly, told RTÉ this week: "Ensuring physical distancing and proper hygiene will be paramount, and there will be procedures put in place to ensure that the golf courses don’t become overcrowded."
Question: Will I be able to mark my partner's card?
Answer: No. No competitions, only casual play, will be permitted during the early stages of golf's reopening.
Question: What will happen when competition returns? Can I mark my partner's card then?
Answer: No. The R&A has said that it is not necessary to have a marker physically certify the player's hole scores, but some form of verbal certification should take place.
It is not necessary to physically return a scorecard to the Committee provided the Committee can accept the scores in another way. As provided in the Rules of Golf, scorecards can be electronic, which could include emailing or texting scores to the Committee.
Question: My club has bought a new device with an attachment that allows me to use my club to lift the flagstick and remove my ball. Is this within the rules?
Answer: According to the R&A, as a temporary provision, flagsticks which do not meet the specifications in Part 8 of the Equipment Rules can be used for player safety.
Question: Will other concessions on the Rules be allowed while restrictions remain in place?
Answer: Yes. To minimise the need to lift the ball from the hole when competition resumes, the R&A has made some recommendations. They say that the Committee may provide 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.
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