Golf is back, but does this decision make the cut?

With UK golf events scheduled from 22nd July, Jack Dunne discusses how COVID-19 may impact the sport.

Jack Dunne
6th June 2020
Flickr via Split The Kipper
The return of sport is now in sight, with golf appearing to be leading the way. On an amateur levels, public golf courses are being flooded with new membership requests from home-bound players at all skill levels; clubs are now allowing two-balls and the R&A has announced the allowance of four-balls, following Boris Johnson’s recent announcement that groups of up to six people can meet.

But what about when you can’t be on the course but still need that golf fix to ease the addiction, or even just to pass the time in lockdown? Well, the European Tour will be making a return to our screens on 22nd July, with six events set to take place to tee off the return. Starting with the British Masters at Close House GC, and following those six, four Rolex series events will take place, providing everything has been proven to run smoothly.

The true question surrounding this is whether there should actually be a return of the European Tour in the midst of a time when social distancing and preventing travel is so important to the health of so many. It is clear that Tour players are not key workers, and their travels across Europe could be putting themselves and others at risk of the virus, so why is there a need for a return of the European Tour so soon after the initial breakout of Covid-19?

First and foremost, it has been made clear that live sport boosts morale. We have seen a set date for the return of the Premier League, although it seems to be forgotten by many (myself included) that not everyone is a football fan. We need a variety of sports aired live in order to truly boost morale and create an even greater sense of normality.

Furthermore, there is the financial argument: the return of the European Tour will bring money through advertisements and sponsorships, as illustrated by the fact that some of the first events to return will be ‘Rolex Series’. Some of this money can then be donated to local golf courses that are struggling financially throughout this pandemic. As well as this, when I asked a local golf professional about his stance on the return, he said “the summer months are the big business and then you hope to make it through the winter”, showing that golf returning sooner can only benefit small clubs. Also, it must be noted that not all European Tour golfers are extremely well off; with some players only earning a few thousand pounds per year. Without being furloughed, it seems necessary that these players are given the opportunity to earn money once again.

As well as this, the return to the European Tour does seem like one of the safest possible sports to spark a return of, suggesting that a return on 22nd July is reasonable. We have already seen the return of golf on American stages, such as ‘The Match II’ of Tiger Woods & Peyton Manning against Phil Mickleson & Tom Brady as well as the ‘TaylorMade Driving Relief’ which saw Rory McIlroy & Dustin Johnson face off against Matthew Wolff & Rickie Fowler, to raise over $5 million for charity. This demonstrates that a return to safe golf is possible with social distancing measures. Although there were no caddies in these matches, it would not be difficult to reintroduce caddies into the game whilst social distancing. Three-ball player groups would then create clusters of six around the course, thus adhering to the latest social distancing measures. It is likely that there will be one official that follows behind each group in order to rake bunkers, hold the flagstick and pick balls out of the hole in order to reduce the risk of infection, further demonstrating that the return of the European Tour is safe. Players could possibly drive individual buggies instead of walking, to further decrease the risk.

https://www.instagram.com/p/CAu3le9nwmd/
The European Tour outlined the schedule for upcoming golf tournaments. Source: Instagram @europeantour

With regards to travel, European Tour chief executive Kieth Pelley announced that “golf’s global tour” has found “playing in clusters, in one territory, is the best option in terms of testing, travel and accommodation”. It is fortunate that the return of the Tour has come at the time of the British swing, so there will not be too much travel involved in competitions. This means that the Tour will be much safer than if it was at any other point during the season, further illustrating why this is the right time for the return of the Tour. Additionally, the European Tour has made the decision that no player will lose his card this year, so there will be no pressure for players who feel unsafe to take part in the upcoming competitions.

The fact that Tour golf will be missing it's fans is no reason for the return to be postponed. Fans of golf are not as integral to the game in most competitions as they are in other sports, as the ‘oohs’ and ‘aahs’ of spectators post-shot have little impact on the game itself. The only competition in golf that fans have a large impact on is the Ryder Cup, and major European force Rory McIlroy has stated that fans are “so integral to the Ryder cup” that if they can’t be let on the course he “can’t see it going ahead”. However, the competition is set to be played late September, by which point it is possible that spectators will be allowed back onto golf courses with social distancing measures in place.

It is clear that the return of the European Tour on 22nd July will not be too soon. The players can socially distance, the travel can be minimised, the fans will not be put at any danger when watching from their own home, and commentary can take place remotely to allow for this.

Golf is evidently one of the safest sports that can be played in this difficult time, with no contact ever needing to be made between players, and so a return of the Tour with enhanced social distancing measures could be almost risk free for the players that choose to partake. The sooner more sport is on our TV’s, the sooner people will be happy to stay indoors and pass the time watching!

Featured image source: Flickr via Split the Kipper
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