Following government guidance, the Saudi Golf Federation (SGF) has confirmed that all of the country’s domestic golf courses will reopen this week, starting from Sunday 31st May. After more than two months of controlled movement and closures, the Saudi government this week set out a specific timetable to lift current restrictions in three phases.
All golf clubs were included in the first phase of the government’s plans and have been given official permission to allow their members to return. However, there are strict health and safety guidelines and precautionary measures that golf clubs must adhere to, if continued play is to be permitted. As part of these new measures, golfers must pre-book their round in advance, and wear masks upon arrival. Temperature checks will also be conducted on arrival for all members and anyone showing signs of illness will be asked to leave the course.
Commenting on the measures put in place to ensure golf’s safe return in Saudi Arabia, Majed Al Sorour, CEO of the Saudi Golf Federation, said: “It is great news that we are now in a position to reintroduce the game we all love across the Kingdom, in line with the latest government regulations. As one of the sports which can be played safely during this period, we urge everyone to be respectful of the phased approach taken by the Saudi Golf Federation.”
Al Sorour continued: “We will continuously monitor the situation both in the Kingdom, and across the world and we have not ruled out the reintroduction of further restrictions if the guidelines are not followed correctly. It is therefore imperative that both golf clubs and members take the necessary steps and adhere to guidelines, if facilities are to remain open in the weeks ahead.”
Additional restrictions designed to prevent the spread of COVID-19 include the use of physical distancing, with members keeping at least two meters apart from each other at all times. Golf carts will only be permitted to be used by one golfer and concierge services will also be closed, meaning players will need to carry their bags to and from their own vehicles. To prevent overcrowding on all courses, tee times have been extended to 14-minute intervals, with a maximum of three players per slot. This gap will not be altered for one or two balls. Restaurants and cafeterias will remain closed for seating, with takeaway orders possible via the on-course cart or telephone order. For payments, only contact-less or card payments will be accepted. Shower and locker facilities will also remain closed.
Player-specific restrictions have also been put in place ahead of next week to prevent the spread of COVID-19. When playing from bunkers, golfers will be asked to make their very best efforts to smooth the sand using their club or their feet, rather than use a rake. Pick and place rules apply for bad lies. It will be forbidden for players to touch or handle the flagstick. Putts will need to be completed with the flagstick in, with players removing their own balls from the hole. Following the play of a hole, players should not enter the next teeing area until all members of the group in front have played their tee shots and left the tee box. Only one golfer should be on the tee at any given time.
Ahead of next week’s return to golf, courses up and down the Kingdom have been hard at work to ensure conditions are pristine for the return of members. Despite restrictions resulting in a shortage of labour, agronomy teams have continued to work hard ensuring both the greens and fairways remain in superb shape, with their efforts being recognised by Al Sorour:
“Thankfully, all of our clubs have had the experience and skills to remain calm and continue their preparations unheeded, without knowing exactly when golf would be able to safely return. We will continue to remain in regular dialogue with the government, updating golf facilities and players on changes to regulations and procedures as restrictions across the Kingdom continue to lift. Given the continuous change in restrictions, there may be a requirement for the Saudi Golf Federation to update and reissue guidelines at regular intervals to reflect government and global advice.”