Published by : Stuart McLean - 12 June 2020

GolfRSA today received the green light for golf courses to re-open, and many will be doing so from tomorrow or Monday. It’s the exciting news that golfers have been anxiously awaiting the last few weeks as GolfRSA officials stepped up their dialogue with the Minister of Sport to have golf facilities open as soon as possible.

The sudden announcement at 1pm has had golf club administrators rushing to open their online tee sheets for members. Others however have been prepared for it. Most golf clubs have been ready to resume at a moment’s notice, with course maintenance work having been stepped up this week in anticipation of this moment.

De Zalze general manager Alfie Payne heard the confirmation news at 1pm today, and within 30 minutes his entire staff was at the Stellenbosch golf estate clubhouse preparing for golf tomorrow.

“We expected the news sometime today, yet it still was tremendously exciting to receive the go-ahead,” said Payne. “I can’t tell you how thrilled I am. We opened our time sheets earlier in the week and De Zalze is fully booked for the next six days.”

Courses around the country have been closed for 11 weeks, although some golf estates did begin allowing home owners and residents to play at the beginning of June, in seeming defiance of the government regulations against groups exercising on a sports ground.

To say that golfers have become frustrated by the delay is an understatement. They had been expecting to return on June 1 under Level 3 regulations. Representatives from GolfRSA, the PGA of SA, and Club Manager Association first met with the Minister on April 30 to make golf’s case for an early release from the lockdown.

In order for golf clubs to re-open, GolfRSA equipped them with risk mitigation strategies and asked each club to train up a compliance officer. All clubs were asked this week to complete and sign a Confirmation of Compliance document and submit it to GolfRSA. Without this no golf club is allowed to open its facilities.

There have been rumours that golfers over the age of 60 would not be allowed back immediately, because of their so-called vulnerability to the Coronavirus, but this is incorrect. There is no age restriction involved in the return. If anything, older golfers might be asked to sign an indemnity form.

There is no indication either of restrictions on golfers who are not members of a golf club. Payne said that while De Zalze members have had preference in booking times this weekend, visitors are in the field on Monday.

While most clubs will initially reserve tee times for members only, numerous clubs rely on visitor play as a primary income. Members are sure to immediately book out weekend times, but visitors will be welcome on quieter midweek days.

Not all golf facilities will open tomorrow. One of those is George Golf Club, the busiest course in the Garden Route. Club captain Daryl Austin said he was disappointed with the way GolfRSA had released the news so suddenly to the general public today.

“The golf clubs should have been told the news first, so that we could prepare to deal with the re-opening before the members heard,” he said. “George Golf Club is ready to re-open, but we object to such late notice on the afternoon before golf’s biggest day of the week, a Saturday.

“We expected some breathing space on the day it was due to be announced, a specific date. For all the golf clubs to be told they could open immediately is jumping the gun. We will instead open times for our members on Sunday. We need a day to get our staff up to speed on what they need to do for the re-opening.”

Austin also said that no specific guidelines or advice had been provided for the re-opening by GolfRSA, which had caused confusion at his club. “We know most of the general stuff, but there is no clarification on whether clubhouses or a halfway house can be opened, how many golfers can be allowed to play each day, whether golfers must wear face masks, the intervals between tee times, nothing like that,” said Austin.

“Clubs are told that golf carts cannot be shared by two people. Why not? There’s nothing in the lockdown regulations forbidding me from giving another person a lift in my car to the golf club, but we’re not allowed to share a golf cart together?”

The Arabella resort near Hermanus in the Western Cape will only open on Monday, and for members only. “We’re not sure yet whether we can accept visitors,” said golf director Mike Munro. “We’ve waiting to hear from GolfRSA on that score. But we’re hoping to welcome visitors from Friday next week.”

Golfers arriving at their golf club tomorrow can expect restrictions. Some of these had already been implemented shortly before the lockdown took effect on March 27. Golf carts are only to be used by one person. The only exception would be for golfers from the same household. They are allowed to share the seat.

Golfers will not be allowed to touch or remove the flagstick on any holes. Most clubs have bought a device which prevents a golf ball from dropping to the bottom of the hole. The ball sits on the “lid,” allowing a golfer to pick it up without any contact with the flagstick. There will be no rakes in bunkers. Maintenance staff will rake these later in the day.

Some clubs may have a one-tee start from the first hole, but there is no suggestion that a two-tee start is forbidden. Likewise, club competitions will be permitted, although Nearest-the-Pin prizes will not be among them.

Ball washers and drinking taps are expected to be covered up, and some clubs are telling golfers not to touch bins or sit on benches, and all hazard stakes to be treated as immovable obstructions.

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