England Golf send letter to Boris Johnson pleading for last-minute exemption from lockdown because the sport is ‘Covid safe’

Golf, tennis and swimming are all set to be shutdown during November despite evidence supporting their case to operate under Covid-19 restrictions

Jack de Menezes
Sports News Correspondent
Tuesday 03 November 2020 11:00 GMT
Boris Johnson announces second national lockdown

England Golf has signed a letter sent to Prime Minister Boris Johnson from the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf (APPG) pleading for a rethink on the imminent closure of golf courses.

New lockdown measures are set to be introduced from Thursday 5 November that will see indoor and outdoor leisure facilities close, including bowling alleys, gyms, swimming pools, golf courses, gyms and tennis courts, with the government attempting to get a grip on the pandemic following a rapid rise in coronavirus cases and deaths.

With recorded UK coronavirus cases now exceeding one million, a four-week lockdown will begin this week, although it will not be as strict as the rules imposed earlier this year when exercise was limited to one hour per day of walking, running or cycling.

With the public encouraged to maintain exercise, leading figures in golf have asked why the game is being shutdown when it offers the chance to fulfil that recommendation in a socially distanced and safe way, with golfers able to participate without any interaction with others.

There has been plenty of confusion over the availability of golf and tennis during the lockdown phase, with the Prime Minister stressing on Monday that the sports will be included in the prohibited list, only for the chancellor Michael Gove to claim on Monday night that both golf and tennis were under consideration for an exemption. Gove has since apologised for getting the government’s rules wrong.

With just two days remaining before golf is placed back under lockdown conditions, the APPG for Golf has written a letter to Johnson laying out why the sport should be given an exemption. It includes the fact that on average courses span a 60-metre area with around 96 people on it at any one time, giving each player 6,250 square meters of space that would be hard to find in any urban location.

The letter read:

“During the lockdown implemented earlier this year, the game of Golf was able to clearly demonstrate that it could be enjoyed in a Covid safe way, which is why it was one of the first sports to be able to return once restrictions were relaxed. This was a privilege that the sport took incredibly seriously and accordingly adopted the highest possible standards to keep the participants safe, which have remained strictly in place to date. The average golf course covers a 60-hectare space, which on average would see only 96 people on it at any one time, which makes it the perfect setting for people of all ages and abilities to get their daily exercise in an extremely safe environment.

“We appreciate that there are often misconceptions about who golf is accessible to, but the reality is that there are over 3m people who regularly play the game in Great Britain spanning all abilities, age groups, backgrounds, gender, and faiths. It also provides welcome access to green spaces for many people who aren’t able to access them elsewhere and has proven health benefits. Leaders in public health recognise the benefits it can offer in not just tackling physical inactivity, but also its contribution to the prevention of a range of non-communicable diseases including heart disease, stroke, diabetes as well as certain cancers.

“Whilst we agree that certain measures will have to be adapted, such as closing clubhouses, these should not be seen as prohibitive to allowing play to continue. Golf clubs in England have already embraced a raft of changes with the vast majority offering online booking services, having pre-scheduled arrival times to eradicate contact with other people and rule changes which ensure players stay socially distanced. In reality, a round of golf affords greater Covid security than comparable activities of walking, running and cycling in an urban area.

“In view of the undeniable health and mental wellbeing benefits that golf offers to a significant proportion of the country, we would ask that you consider exempting it from the proposed restrictions, should they come in to force on Wednesday.”

Golf courses have on average one player per every 6,250 square metres on them
Golf courses have on average one player per every 6,250 square metres on them (PA)

The letter, which was sent by the MP Craig Tracey who chairs the APPG for Golf, included the signature of England Golf chief executive Jeremy Tomlinson, as well as the Executive director of The R&A David Rickman, PGA chief executive Robert Maxfield, UK Golf Federation boss Doug Poole and the head of the Golf Club Managers Association Tom Brooke among others

It is hoped that the letter, combined with more than 250,000 signatures on a petition calling for golf to be exempt from lockdown, will spark last-minute talks to reverse the decision to ban the sport during lockdown.

Johnson was asked on Monday in the House of Commons by Conservative MP for Bracknell, James Sunderland, whether he would consider exempting golf from a lockdown ban due to its socially-distanced nature.

"I must apologise to my honourable friend for not being able to offer the house a huge list of exemptions to the rules we've set out,’ Johnson said. "Because once you unpick at one thing alas the effectiveness of the whole package is compromised. That's why I want everyone to work together for the next four weeks to get the R rate under control so that we can open things up again in time for December."

Pushed further on the growing calls for sporting exemption, Johnson added: "We will look at all the suggestions made and at any exceptions we can sensibly make, but it is difficult to take out one part of the Jenga block without disturbing the whole package.”

However, Gove went against that response just a matter of hours later, issuing a different response to being asked about whether golf and tennis could go ahead.

“You’ll probably be able to play singles tennis,” he told constituents on Facebook, adding: “If people are properly socially distanced, they can take exercise with one other person.

“We are looking at allowing people to play on golf courses with one other appropriately distanced. The same would apply to tennis, if you are playing tennis out of doors.”

But Gove issued a correction after the Department for Digital, Culture, Media and Sport made it clear there was no suggestion of an exemption for the two sports.

“My apologies, I got this wrong. Outdoor leisure facilities including tennis courts and golf courses will be closed from Thursday,” he tweeted.

The backtrack comes just two days after No 10 slapped down Gove for suggesting the entire four-week lockdown could be extended, angering Tory MPs.

He put the 2 December expiry plan in doubt by calling it a “review” date – not an end date – saying: “We’ll always be driven by the data.”

But Downing Street quickly made clear the measures would last for 27 days, after which a return to the three-tier regional approach was planned.

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