Winter of discontent as golfers relieved to get back on course
When club finally meets ball across tee boxes this morning it will signal the end to one of the longest winters in memory for amateur golfers.
Fairways have been left eerily quiet without members while the buzz of lawnmowers and the hard work of green staff in upkeep has been the only constant in the most testing of times.
Many golf clubs across Yorkshire have had to make some tough decisions over the last 12 months, having been open for business at a reduced capacity then forced into full closure in January amid the Covid-19 crisis.
Working within restrictions came at an initial cost – with the loss of the use of clubhouses and bars – and the shutdown in the new year only added to the worry for clubs up and down the country.
Winter months, of course, would see reduced rates, different tees and greens and the use of winter mats – but a full closure has seen members and golf enthusiasts lose the option to enjoy a sport which is ready-made for social distancing.
Tough choices have been taken from furloughing green and club staff, to choosing where to invest and deploy the limited resource that has still been available.
“We’re so excited to get the members back in. We’ve been really lucky to have great support from them,” said Adam Frontal, managing director at Cookridge Hall Golf Club.
“We’ve not had any hassle and they’ve understood that in order to keep the course open, we need green staff – it would just be ruined and there would be nothing to come back to.
“I want to see staff back at full capacity – while we’ve not had any income we’ve had to make hard decisions. Thankfully members have been understanding. You don’t join a golf club for a couple of months – it’s a yearly commitment and I think they’ve recognised that.
“It was hugely disappointing for us to get shut down. You’d be closer to someone walking in the park and exercising than you would out on a golf course – it didn’t really make sense.
“Golf is exercise and it helps people’s well-being and mental health – it seemed unfair to stop a sport that leaned itself to all the restrictions but we’re just happy to be back.”
It has all, though, been done for the greater good for a sport that will finally kick into gear again. Courses will return to some form of normality and the screams of ‘fore’ will bring back a wry smile.
“It’s been really odd not having anyone out there,” said Simon Oliver, course manager at Cookridge Hall Golf Club.
“It’s allowed us to get out and work on the course at different times while not having to look out for balls whistling over our heads.
“It might sound good for us but we do it all for the golfers – there’s no point without them. It’s been strange and to have the day in mind has been a bit of a relief.”
There have been positives too.
Courses haven’t been damaged by golfers under foot during a harsh winter and greenkeepers haven’t had to halt their work to let players through.
They, though, would much prefer to see the fairways buzzing with activity, even if efficiency levels may drop in the coming weeks and months.
“We’ve still carried out our winter programme which included drainage, tree work and some new bunkers have been added on a couple of holes,” said Chris Cobb, greenkeeper at Alwoodley Golf Club.
“The best thing about having no golf is that we’ve been able to carry out the green renovations without having to work around play, which makes things much easier. Recovery is a major positive and the rest the golf course gets no foot traffic. It does the world of good, especially during the winter months.
“The course will be in better shape going into spring, which is handy considering the rest of the year is going to see lots of golf being played.
“We’ve had four weeks notice, which is about right to get the course back into condition ready for play to resume. The biggest job is getting the bunkers back into play.
“It’ll be good to see golf return and hopefully a sense of normality for us all, we’ll have to get used to flying golf balls over our heads once again.”
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