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Golfers under scrutiny as greens open for Easter

Some golf clubs are allowing four-player groups, although golf association guidelines recommend only two players.

Golfers take to the greens during the Easter holiday weekend. Image: Jyrki Ojala

Easter weekend saw golf courses across the country open up for business -- many of the greens are located in Uusimaa, still under isolation from the rest of the country to slow the spread of novel coronavirus.

The national golfing association, Golfliitto, said that it has provided detailed guidelines to ensure that players act responsibly and with moderation.

"We are emphasising health and wellbeing, excitement should not trump good sense. Golf courses cannot become hotbeds of contagion," association head Juha Korhonen stressed.

The golf association head added that it is important to avoid unnecessary conflict at the beginning of the season. He noted that some courses are allowing four-player groups, although association guidelines recommend only two players.

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The national golf association is that recommending groups of no more than two players be allowed on the greens. Image: Jyrki Ojala

The sporting body said it understands players' enthusiasm at the start of the season, but Korhonen noted that he has had to issue warnings over the two-player rule.

"I've had discussions with a few clubs and raised the issue of responsibility. Of course if you have new players the recommendations may not yet have sunken in," he added.

Golf clubs have also been advised to avoid having large groups of people gathering in parking lots, in front of the club house and near the area where players tee off to begin their rounds.

Tapiola Golf allowing four-player groups

Tapiola Golf is one of the courses in the Uusimaa region that opened greens to players two weeks ago. It serves 650 members, all of whom want to secure a slot to play.

CEO Jari Hakkarainen said that the club wanted a head start on the season so that players could get some outdoor activity and mental wellbeing, due to the coronavirus crisis.

"When we received the guidelines from the association, we relied on official recommendations. This is not a case of organised gatherings. We also have people who don't play but just want to try the sport and hit a ball. They have not read the association's guidelines," he argued.

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Tapiola golf club has received some blowback for its policy of allowing four-player groups. Image: Jyrki Ojala

Hakkarainen said that the club has received some negative feedback about its decision to allow four-player groups. He said that it has come directly to staff members, but also via social media, and in messages, and added that staff have even been berated on the greens.

Hakkarainen spoke of the need to find balance with economic issues, given that corporate events have been put on hold well into the summer. He said he fears that income will fall by over 50 percent.

"Of course health is number one for us too, but we are concerned about the continuity of the business. We already have fewer people at work -- four people are waiting to be called back in," he explained.

Uusimaa's isolation bringing players out

Meanwhile Porvoo Golf welcomed players from the Wednesday before the Easter holiday weekend. According to CEO Esa Palosaari, golf enthusiasts have not been hard to come by and nearly all tee times have been reserved.

"The coronavirus situation has meant that a lot of people in southern Finland are here for Easter. We have had many players because people have not been able to go elsewhere in Finland for the holiday," he noted.

He said the association's new guidelines have been well-received by players, including the recommendation for only two-player groups.

Further afield in Vantaa, the Hiekkaharju golf club also reported a brisk start to the season. CEO Kari Laakso said that it is important to be able to have some kind of normalcy in the midst of the coronavirus crisis.

He quipped that golf is the kind of sport in which it is easy to maintain a safe distance from others.

"We also have monitors out on the field to remind people about the new rules, but our golfers have been very good about complying with the recommendations provided," he said.

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