Lessons from England: How to push for the resumption of golf

  • April 22, 2021
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Golfers in Kenya are a worried lot. It’s been more than three weeks since they did what they do best-play golf- yet there’s no clear indication when the ban on sporting activities will be lifted. A disclosure by Kenya Golf Union, KGU, last week that the Union has been engaging the government on the matter was a welcome revelation, raising optimism levels to an all-time high. But it remains just that-optimism.

After a series of policy pronouncements, golfers in England were allowed back on the courses on March 29th 2021. Since the advent of coronavirus, the UK government has shut down golf courses on three occasions- for two months in March, four weeks in November and in January this year.

These series of stoppages saw England Golf, the equivalent of KGU, proactively initiate long term interventions to safeguard the continuity of the sport for its two million members. Three initiatives standout- roll out of a full-fledged safety campaign, cross-disciplinary engagement and purposeful lobbying.

During the first lockdown, England Golf unveiled the Play Safe, Stay Safe protocols to make the sport more secure. All clubs/facilities were directed to adhere to the comprehensive guidelines rolled out ahead of the March 2021 reopening “failure to which they are open to enforcement action from local authorities and/or Police, or subject to disciplinary procedures from England Golf”. The procedures which meticulously spell out obligations of all stakeholders in the sport are available in a Play Safe poster and Play Safe timeline infographic, for distribution to all clubs and also on digital media channels to help increase the knowledge of the updated protocols.

England Golf, alongside the national associations of Wales, Ireland and Scotland teamed up with bodies representing club managers, club professionals, facility owners and greenkeepers and set up an industry group working in partnership the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf. The aim of the initiative was for key stakeholders in the golf industry to come together to ensure the safety and wellbeing of golfers and members of staff alike. Through this partnership a comprehensive document titled ‘COVID-19 SECURE GOLF IN THE UNITED KINGDOM 2021’ was prepared highlighting the health and economic benefits of golf. The caucus sort counsel from top British medical practitioners and cited several medical studies published, including in the British Journal of Sports Medicine, to demonstrate the health benefits associated with playing golf. These include:

  • Playing golf may contribute to reduced mortality and increased life expectancy.
  • There’s evidence of beneficial effects for golfers in cardiovascular, respiratory, metabolic and musculoskeletal health.
  • UK-based research has identified the ‘golf specific effects’ that improve strength and balance that may contribute to fall reduction, a leading cause of disability and health costs in older age and in both sexes.
  • Golf helps in tackling physical inactivity and contributes to the prevention of a range of non-communicable disease including heart disease, stroke, diabetes and cancer of the breast and colon.
  • Golf has helped people cope with wide ranging disability and dysfunction including dementia.
  • The sport has enormous psychological benefits including improved self-esteem, improved confidence, and reduced anxiety.  
  • Golf also provides an excellent opportunity for developing interpersonal skills, emotional control and enhancing social connections.
A golfer in action in Kenya -File picture

The All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf presented the scientific paper to the government in one of the multi-pronged approaches to demonstrate how golf can be played safely during the pandemic.

England Golf went a step further and petitioned the government directly demanding that golfers be allowed to resume play. In a petition to the British Prime Minister Boris Johnson citing the All-Party Parliamentary Group for Golf, the letter from England Golf elucidated the efforts it had undertaken to make golf clubs/facilities secure and the sensitization campaigns it had carried out for its stakeholders. “Our golfing community has struggled without access to the game they love. For many, the mental hardships have been tougher to endure than the physical ones. These have been tough times that none of us want to visit again. Importantly, we see no reason why golf can’t be one of the first sports to return, to help with the healing process for our country…”wrote Jeremy Tomlinson CEO, England Golf.

Additionally, England Golf supported several attempts by golfers in direct petitions demanding the resumption of the sport. Two petitions in particular captured the frustration and anxiety that continued to grip golfers. The first petition launched in November gathered 257,267 while the second one hosted on Parliament’s Petitions website netted more than 130,000 signatures.

Though return to golf in England was delayed till March 29th, clearly, there were systematic and concerted efforts in the push for the resumption. Even though it is common knowledge that golf is one of the safest sports, in their lobbying England Golf kept on demonstrating the concrete steps its membership was taking to make the sport safer.

At the moment, the Kenyan golfer is in the middle of the wilderness. We have entrusted KGU the delicate role of interceding on our behalf as it tirelessly engages the government. Drawing from the England experience, all stakeholders should put hands on the deck and demonstrate the concrete steps put in place to make golf safer in this perilous times. Just pushing the narrative that golf is a sport played safely in the open air with social distancing is not enough. Fingers crossed, we shall soon be back on the course.

Meanwhile, the PGA Tour action moves to the TPC Louisiana where the Zurich Classic tees off tonight. Zurich Classic, the only team sport on the Tour calendar, will feature 80 teams comprised of 160 players.  It will use an alternating-round Four-ball and Foursomes format over the four days during which the first and third rounds will be Four-ball while the second and final rounds will be Foursomes. At least 19 of the top 50 in the Official World Golf Ranking will be in contention for the Kshs 750 million prize purse. The team of Jon Rahm and Ryan Palmer are the defending champions having won the event in 2019. Last year, the event did not take place after it was cancelled due to COVID-19. The field will be reduced to 33 teams and ties after the second round. The winners will also earn points towards the FedEx Cup.

Catch all the Zurich Classic 2021 action live on DStv or stream matches on the DStv App. Here are some of the high profile pairings: Jon Rahm & Ryan Palmer, Collin Morikawa & Matthew Wolff, Danny Willett &Tyrrell Hatton, Xander Schauffele & Patrick Cantlay, Justin Rose & Henrik Stenson, Louis Oosthuizen & Charl Schwartzel, Billy Horschel & Sam Burns, Tony Finau & Cameron Champ, Bubba Watson & Scottie Scheffler and Cameron Smith & Marc Leishman.

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