England Golf is ready to fight the Government’s order to shut courses on Thursday, with the governing body labeling the fresh guidance as “confusing” and “contradictory” to the Prime Minister’s address on Saturday night.
Sources indicate that senior figures at England Golf were stunned to learn that clubs are being instructed to close on Nov 5 for at least four weeks, along with driving ranges, par-three set-ups and all other facilities.
After the successful behind-closed-doors tactics that saw golf become one of the first sports to resume in May following a near two-month hiatus, Jeremy Tomlinson, the England Golf chief executive, has elected to go far more public in the attempt to force a rapid Johnson u-turn.
Not only has Tomlinson written an open letter to golfers on England Golf’s official website but he has also revealed that he has signed the online petition to “exempt golf courses from the list of venues required to close due to Covid-19”.
By Sunday morning, less than 18 hours after Johnson’s prime-time speech, it reached the 100,000-mark meaning that Parliament is now obliged to discuss the issue. Together with “the mountain of overwhelming evidence” that England Golf believes it has built up since the first lockdown was called in March, there is great hope that sense will win the debate it seeks to force.
“Having digested the Prime Minister’s statement to the nation on Saturday night and read the guidance which followed, there is an element of confusion around the government’s stated intention to close down golf courses and facilities,” Tomlinson wrote.
“As a result of this, and with the health of the nation very much at the heart of my thinking, I would like to make clear England Golf’s intention to respectfully challenge the government’s rationale… We will do so utilising all in our network – MPs, colleagues, media and friends – to make sure we are heard by government.”
It is understood that Oliver Dowden, the culture secretary, is sympathetic to the cause. He is viewed as an ally and was influential in re-opening the fairways in May. While the game has been shut down in Wales in its two-week lockdown, clubs are still allowed to open in Northern Ireland, albeit with strict guidelines. In Scotland, some clubhouses have been locked up, but the sport goes on.
Come next Monday, England is set to be the odd one out in the four home nations and in a bid to overturn the edict, the health benefits will obviously be central to England Golf’s argument.
Insiders recognise that the one hole in their case is the travel involved, with the vast majority of golfers driving distances of more than five miles to carry out their hobby, but this will not stop Tomlinson embarking on the “respectful” offensive.
“Listening to the Prime Minister, the news that he is actively encouraging safe and responsible outdoor exercise for households or two individuals pointed to our great game of golf being at the heart of this policy,” Tomlinson said. “The guidance which followed stating that golf courses were on a list of venues which should close, therefore, appeared contradictory and came out of the blue.
“Of course, we fully recognise and accept the need to suppress the virus to save lives and protect the NHS. At all times we have placed the health and wellbeing of our communities as a priority.
“For this and many reasons, it is our sincere belief that it is now counter-productive to shut down a healthy pursuit which naturally lends itself to social distancing and is played in a Covid-secure manner in the open air.”
Golf has been one of if not the primary success stories in recreational sports adapting to life in the pandemic. Participational levels have shot up, with Sports Marketing Surveys reporting that the number of rounds played in the UK during August was up more than 60 per cent compared with the corresponding month in 2019.
The take-up of new memberships in formerly beleaguered clubs has mirrored this staggering upward trend and there is an understandable urge for this growth not to be allowed to stall or even reversed. November is not normally a big month in the golf calendar, but with the Masters being staged next week there is an overwhelming desire to keep the tills ringing. Little wonder, therefore, that Tomlinson is so keen to go on the “respectful” offensive.
“With safe and responsible exercising being encouraged, it seems incongruous to call for golf courses to now close,” he said. “Golf is widely acknowledged as a game which is good for the body and soul, with outstanding research reiterating its benefits for the older generation recently shared by the R&A.
“In the current situation, the psychological gains from being able to enjoy a social and safe form of outdoor activity, enjoying a temporary release from the pressures of everyday life probably outweigh the physical. Alongside our colleagues in the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf we will pro-actively continue dialogue with government challenging the current position hard, but with great reason, to allow golf courses to remain open.”