- Alistair Tait
Golf needs a coronavirus exit strategy
It’s the question on the minds of those of us who love this stick and ball game: when will be able to play golf again?
Hopefully it won’t be too long before we can return to the fairways, but golf clubs will need guidance to make sure we all act responsibility. Because it might be a long time before we get back to normal. If ever.
One thing’s probably for sure, we’ll almost certainly be playing long before the professional tours restart.
Professor Sam McConkey, head of the Royal College of Surgeons’ department of international health and tropical medicine in Dublin, believes it should be relatively safe for golfers to return to the game sooner rather than later. He did so with caveats, which is where the governing bodies come in.
“Golf is played outside in the open air, and almost always two metres away from other players,” McConkey told The Irish Times. “So my opinion is that playing golf, even two or four players from different houses together, could be done relatively safely if sick people and their contacts stay away, people come dressed and do not use changing rooms, gyms or the clubhouse facilities.”
While McConkey’s words give hope to golfers throughout the UK and Ireland, he does stress any return to the fairways has to done under supervision.
“A national guidance plan is the best way forward, not each club deciding itself.”
I agree. We can’t have a situation where it’s up to individual clubs to determine policy. There needs to be a national plan setting out strict guidelines for what can and can’t be done so that as a sport we act responsibly. Hopefully the bodies governing the game in Great Britain & Ireland will put their heads together and do just that.
As for the professional tours getting back into operation any time soon, Stephanie Apstein's excellent article in Sports Illustrated. 'Bursting the Bubble: Why Sports Aren't Coming Back Soon,' does just that. She talks to experts who point out the logistics of why talk of holding major sporting events in the immediate future is fanciful.
Her article flies in the face of Dr Anthony Fauci’s words, when he spoke to Snapchat’s Peter Hamby. Fauci, America’s top infectious diseases expert, said:
"There's a way of doing that (restarting major sports). Nobody comes to the stadium. Put (the players) in big hotels, wherever you want to play, keep them very well surveilled... Have them tested every single week and make sure they don't wind up infecting each other or their family, and just let them play the season out."
Golf is one of a number of sports where social distancing rules can be practised. However, the logistics surrounding holding golf tournaments, even without fans, seem extremely complicated and risky. Anyone who’s taken a behind the scenes look at how golf tournaments are run, as I have for 30 years, knows there are hundreds of people involved. Not just players, caddies and officials. The TV crews alone are enormous. Cleaners, course superintendents, locker room attendants, media, medics, hotel staff to look after players staying in the same hotel. Are we going to test every single person associated with a tournament, every single week?
Think of the travel involved for players, caddies and officials. Are individual states in America going to be happy for outsiders coming into their states if they can’t test them? Think of the European Tour and the countries it visits. Are countries going to open their borders to allow people to travel there for something as insignificant in the grand scheme of things right now as a golf tournament? Think of the hassle involved in testing everyone involved with a tournament staged in another country.
It’s why the idea of re-scheduling major championships and restarting different tours at this moment seems pie in the sky thinking. Surely that can't even be contemplated until there's mass testing and scientists find a vaccine?
As for ordinary golfers returning to the fairways, there could be light at the end of this very dark tunnel. Golf will hopefully be one of the first sports people can play once the lockdown ends, but only when a set of guidelines has been produced applicable to all golf facilities.