Nub News watches a birdie ‘almost drop’ as Atherstone golfers are back in the swing at the home of Ryder Cup legends

  Posted: 16.05.20 at 10:42 by Nick Hudson

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RETIRED commercial photographer Rob Kershaw lined up a putt about a ‘social distancing’ length from the flag and thanked Nub News for finding him on the 17th green at Atherstone Golf Club.

“You can come any time,” he quipped as he sank the six footer and announced: “That’s my first birdie of the day.”

A broad smile crossed his face but there was something quite surreal about the moment – as the ball didn’t drop.

In these days of living through coronavirus, and following Boris Johnson’s announcement last Sunday that courses could reopen as part of a relaxing of lockdown measures in midweek, it was a hectic race against time to install a new set of ‘safety first’ playing rules for Wednesday’s rebirth.

One of those new guidelines means that flag-sticks are being left in at all times and a hole liner system used so the ball stays ‘up’ and can be retrieved without touching the cup.

Lining up: On the 17th green

It’s a small price to pay for the likes of the 72-year-old member to get back on the fairways of his beloved 6,012-yard course that bred champions and holds a unique place in the annals of British golf.

The club, off Coleshill Road, is the only one in history to produce three Ryder Cup players including brothers Bernard and Geoff Hunt and five time tour winner Paul Broadhurst as well as double tour winner Steve Webster. In fact Broadhurst was due to play the course yesterday.

Now it finds itself part of a movement to row back against the deadly enemy Covid-19 – that number for golfers normally being associated with a friendly drink back in the clubhouse at the hole after the 18th.

The only handicap now is adjusting to the impact coronavirus imposes on playing conditions – the hazards of out of bounds and deep bunkers forgotten in the joy of playing again.

The club has had to be rigorous in applying rules to ensure it was able to open on Wednesday “in a responsible and safe way” as well as introducing an online booking system.

Sunk: But not without trace as the balls stay up

In a statement it urges “please, please” adhere to the new regulations which include allowing “members only” to play with those in arrears refused entry. The decision of visitors will be kept under review.

The phased return also means play – maximum of two people – managed by staff and designated volunteers who will remind golfers of the guidance on social distancing.

Booking tee times are available up to three days in advance – first tee off is 6am and last at 7pm. All must be played starting at the first with eight minutes between tee times.

Practice net and the putting green, along with the clubhouse, will be temporary closed while bunker rakes, ball washers and any other course furniture that would otherwise be touched have been removed.

The club is also looking for marshals to keep the course open plus a team of volunteers to keep coronavirus procedures in place.

Keeping their distance: Down to the 18th

Rob Challis ended the statement: “May I thank everyone for their patience and understanding during these difficult times and hopefully everyone will follow the rules to ensure we can increase the amount of golfers allowed to play together.”

Jeremy Tomlinson, chief executive of England Golf, released a statement in which he acknowledged the "amazing work" that has been done to facilitate the return of golf.

"The hours since lockdown easing was announced – allowing golf to be one of the first sports to return – have been truly hectic," Mr Tomlinson said.

"In challenging times, greenkeepers deserve a medal for the work they have put in to tend our courses and make sure that with just 48 hours' notice they were ready for play."

For more details go to the club website or for course status click here.

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