COLWYN Bay-based past president of the European Institute of Golf Course Architects (EIGCA) David Williams has called for all golf courses within the UK to open up to walkers and joggers whilst they are currently closed for play during the current pandemic.
Writing in last weekend’s The Sunday Times newspaper, Williams, designer of over 30 courses worldwide, said: “Golf clubs should open up and do their bit for the community. They are often the biggest open green space in an urban area. It seems wrong that we prevent the public from walking and jogging on them while they are closed. The average 18-hole golf course is about 150 acres – that’s huge compared with many of our urban parks.”
EIGCA also produced their own statement on the issue, initially stating that golf is the perfect game for social distancing and therefore courses should be seriously considered for re-opening when the lockdown is gradually released. However, their statement continued: “Opening golf courses to the general public raises questions regarding insurance, security and Health & Safety, as well as safeguarding natural habitats and protecting important playing areas. We do recognise however that golf clubs have social responsibility and we would welcome clubs playing their part in helping local communities during this period of uncertainty, in what ever form that takes, including access to golf club land where it is deemed feasible to do so.”
The Sunday Times article noted that their analysis found that opening all 3,087 of Britain’s golf courses would give an extra million people easy access to a green space. These people live in urban areas without nearby public parks or playing fields, but within 1,640ft (500 metres) of a golf course.
There are about 481,000 acres of public green space in Britain. Opening up all golf courses, which take up about another 311,000 acres, would increase that by another two-thirds. In the unlikely event that every Briton took to the nation’s golf courses simultaneously and were evenly spaced, each would have nearly 210 square feet in which to self-isolate.
Areas that would particularly benefit from opening up golf courses include the more densely populated areas of Surrey Heath and the Fylde area in Lancashire. About a tenth of the population in these places live in urban areas that are close to golf courses, but not close to a park. At least 25,000 Birmingham residents would benefit, as well as tens of thousands in the Midlands and Lancashire, the paper added.
Many MPs, including Labour’s Harriet Harman and Caroline Lucas, the Green MP for Brighton, have already backed the idea. Many forward thinking and community spirited clubs, including Caversham Heath Golf Club, near Reading in Berkshire (pictured) have already opened up their courses for walking and jogging. Their general manager Gary Stangoe said: “The relative damage that has been done by walkers and runners is minimal compared with the usual wear and tear caused by 100 to 150 golfers on a normal day, all wearing spikes and carrying or pulling heavy golf bags.” He continued “99% of Caversham Heath’s experiences have been positive.”
Williams added: “Let us hope that the majority of clubs, especially those in built up urban areas, recognise the huge social benefit of opening up their courses to those people who maybe have no other option for experiencing the fresh air and exercise that walking around a large open space can bring.”