Thursday 7 January 2021 6:00 am

Opening golf clubs would be a hole in one for lockdown health

Olivia Hartley is a subeditor at The Critic magazine

It will come as no surprise that 2020 was a bittersweet year for the UK’s golfing industry.

While the urbanisation and redevelopment of golf courses mean that many much-loved greenspaces are being lost in the bid for more housing, the sport saw a huge increase in uptake after the restrictions of the first lockdown were eased, as well as a surge in memberships which enabled some of the more remote venues to survive

Indeed, English golf clubs saw 20,000 new members join them in the three months after the first lockdown, which is an astonishing feat for any grassroots sport.

Read more: London faces its biggest crisis since World War II

For the measly few weeks that we were under the thumb of a disparate tier system, golf courses in England were allowed to remain open.

However, as we enter a third national lockdown, they have been told to close once again. This will be hugely disappointing news for many golf-players; not only is golf a distinctly outdoor and non-contact sport, but it also provides an important means of social contact for an older generation who rely on it, while remaining within Government guidelines.

It is utterly illogical that you can exercise for up to an hour outdoors with one person from another household – or even walk around a golf course with them – and yet it is forbidden to actually play golf.

The effect that this will have on people’s wellbeing is extremely disconcerting. A recent poll conducted by The Golf Travel Centre found 98 per cent of respondents said the game improves their mental health and reduces stress.

In a time where mental health tends to worsen during the winter months, particularly for those who suffer from SAD (seasonal affective disorder), we should really actively encourage those activities which are safe and accessible while we still can.

Indeed, the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf’s persuasive report handed to the UK’s culture secretary Oliver Dowden on 4 December not only outlines the health, wellbeing, and economic benefits of allowing the sport to resume, but also makes the convincing point that golf is an activity that naturally lends itself to social distancing, thus abiding by the “Hands, Face, Space” directive.

Golf courses are allowed to remain open in Scotland despite a March-style lockdown, and so it would not be out of turn to make this a uniform policy across the UK. Only time will tell if the Government will take a leaf out of Nicola Sturgeon’s book on this issue.

However, although the Government are yet to heed the advice of the report and lift this nonsensical ban on one of the UK’s most popular grassroots sport, an online petition to reopen golf courses in England and Wales is quickly racking up signatures. 

In order for a petition to be considered for debate at parliament, it must receive at least 100,000 signatures and, at the time of writing, it has already well over 70,000 and has been promoted by golfers such as Lee Westwood – perhaps this may be the necessary action to incite the Government to perform a (for once welcome) U-turn and allow us this one small comfort.

City A.M.'s opinion pages are a place for thought-provoking views and debate. These views are not necessarily shared by City A.M.

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