Course of action: How Denmark could provide a template for Irish golf's return

The green light for Irish courses to reopen on May 18 could not have been more welcome for a nation of frustrated golfers but the hard work starts now to get them ready for action and Ireland could do worse than look to countries like Denmark for a way to resume safely.
Course of action: How Denmark could provide a template for Irish golf's return

A retrofitted plastic curtain down the middle of the cart separates golfers to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Shenvalee Golf Resort in New Market, Virginia, U.S., May 3, 2020. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque
A retrofitted plastic curtain down the middle of the cart separates golfers to help prevent the spread of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19) at Shenvalee Golf Resort in New Market, Virginia, U.S., May 3, 2020. Reuters/Kevin Lamarque

The green light for Irish courses to reopen on May 18 could not have been more welcome for a nation of frustrated golfers but the hard work starts now to get them ready for action and Ireland could do worse than look to countries like Denmark for a way to resume safely.

The Government’s roadmap for the easing of Covid-19 restrictions placed golf, which shutdown on March 24, in phase one when the country begins to re-open on the journey back from pandemic.

Though that was met with relief and satisfaction by Ireland’s national golf governing bodies, the restrictions on movement, social distancing and gatherings that will still remain in two weeks mean there is plenty of work to be done to ensure the sport plays its part in a measured return to everyday life.

Golf Ireland, the Irish Ladies Golf Union and the Golfing Union of Ireland all warmly welcomed last Friday’s announcement. Now it is up to the industry and golfers alike to show the sport can play its part in rebuilding national wealth while ensuring the maintenance of its public health.

A draft protocol by the GUI, ILGU and Golf Ireland for safe play will be finalised in the coming days and it is certain they will have looked to other countries and seen the different measures being implemented. Courses in Portugal were due to re-open on Monday while France, Spain and Switzerland are set to follow suit on May 11.

The Danes have been free to play with restrictions since March 30. Chairman of the Danish Golf Union, Lars Broch Christensen told the Irish Examiner how a small country like Ireland with similar playing numbers was managing its safe return to play.

Denmark’s 190 courses were closed in line with government guidelines but reopened for play for a maximum of two people per tee time after just two weeks. By mid-April, the union was advising that practice grounds and putting greens could follow suit for numbers appropriate to the size of the facility. It also increased the numbers per tee time to four, teeing off in 10-minute intervals rather than seven.

The Danes have had more leeway in that gatherings were only ever limited to a maximum of 10 people but the Dansk Golf Union chairman believes Irish golf could re-open in a similar manner, though he did not describe the activity as “social golf”.

“We’re calling it private golf for the time being because you can go to the course only a short time before, you can play a round of golf and then you have to leave directly.

“Clubhouses are not open, restaurants, cafes are not open and toilets are not available so it is only the golf.

“We have now opened up practice grounds, at least in some places but there is a maximum of 10 persons being together and you have to book a time online for a driving-range bay as well. Most clubs have spread out their spaces to allow for this and set a time limit of 10 or 30 minutes.

“All our clubs, I think, are now using the GolfBox online booking system. They were using it before this virus but now it is a big advantage, of course, because of the limitations on the number of persons allowed together. If you’re coming out to the course and you don’t know when to start then it’s quite difficult.

“We are at four players per tee time now. We started out with two but in the first two weeks we saw that was working properly.

"You can play safe practically on a golf course, it’s easy to keep a distance of two metres. You can’t use the bunkers (with bunker rakes having been withdrawn) but with the new holes (with raised cups not requiring the touching of the hole or the flagstick) and using the new R&A rules so you can still use handicaps when counting rounds.

“So that all worked well for the first two weeks so were comfortable increasing the numbers to four.

“There is a bit more responsibility given to the clubs because they needed to set up some systems about how they wanted to do things locally but I would say that has been managed very well by the golf club managers around Denmark.

“Golfers are very happy that they now have something to do. Other outdoor sports have also restarted with different restrictions but many have learned from us. Iceland, Norway and Finland are doing things in the same way as we (Danes).”

Ireland could follow a similar path but Christensen was at pains to point out that the onus was on golfers acting responsibly.

“I would say this coronavirus is a lot about the behaviour of people. They have had to change habits a bit and if you can do that in a quick way, then for sure.

“These rules are more or less the same rules that we need to follow in whatever we do in Denmark for the time being, keeping a distance of two metres, not being more than 10 persons together, taking care of the special risk groups.”

Irish golfers will only be permitted to play within a five-kilometre radius of their homes during Phase 1, though that will be extended to a 20km radius when Phase 2, scheduled for June 8, kicks in. Travel within Denmark is unrestricted and green-fee players have been welcome in most clubs since April 22. The only issue seems to be finding room for green fees on club timesheets.

“Clubs are free to decide whether to allow green-fee players,” Christensen said. “Some say bring a guest only because if it’s not raining or very windy, then most of the courses are full with members right now. They are the priority for many clubs.

“Even club tournaments are possible but it’s without the social life. You can hold club tournaments for members within the recommendations, using online scorecards and arriving right before and leaving straight after, so no beers, no social life.” Christensen agreed that in Denmark, the return to golf has been so far, so good.

“It’s good mental health. We cannot be together but we are out and seeing some different places and we can still say ‘hello, how are you?’. When the weather is decent our courses are full from morning to evening. There are not so many other options for the time being, no birthday parties, no weddings, no nothing..

“So right now we have a lot of happy golfers."

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