Calls go out in Borders for lockdown ban on golf and angling to be lifted

Galashiels Golf Club.Galashiels Golf Club.
Galashiels Golf Club. | Other 3rd Party
Calls are going out for Borderers to be allowed to resume outdoor leisure activities such as golf, fishing and bowls.

Ettrick, Roxburgh and Berwickshire MSP Rachael Hamilton is urging the Scottish Government to lift the current Covid-19 lockdown restrictions prohibiting outdoor sports to put the country on a level footing with England.

Mrs Hamilton believes that outdoor activities should be allowed to recommence at the earliest opportunity, subject to conditions to ensure social distancing, and she has written to Holyrood rural economy secretary Fergus Ewing calling for the present ban to be reviewed.

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“Outdoor sports such as golfing, hiking and fishing could take place with the necessary social distancing measures and it would not jeopardise the government’s efforts in tackling this pandemic,” said Mrs Hamilton.

“We currently have an extraordinary situation in my constituency around Coldstream where people can happily fish in the English half of the River Tweed whilst anglers in Scotland can only watch on from the Scottish side, where fishing is still not permitted at this time.

“By their nature, outdoor-based sports see participants spread out, whether over a hillside, across an open space or along a river.

“In the Borders and across rural Scotland, the angling and shooting industry needs to have clarity so it can plan for the new season.

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“I urge the Scottish Government to rethink its restrictions, given the nature of these sports, and the immense contribution they make to our rural economy.”

Such a move would have the support of the region’s golf clubs.

Ross Duncan, former captain at Peebles Golf Club and its current board marketing convener, said: “We are very supportive of restrictions being lifted.

“Other countries – England last week and Ireland and Wales – have reopened golf courses, so from a Scottish perspective it would be great for our courses to reopen as long as they are safe to do so.

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“With the weather being so good, it has contributed to the frustration at the courses not being open.

“People are appreciative that they have to stand by the rules and the restrictions, but golf is generally regarded as something that can be played with social distance in mind.

“There were changes put in place in the week before the lockdown in terms of not touching flags, not picking your ball out of the holes, not shaking hands, those sort of things, so I think everybody is aware of the changes that would need to be in place before golf could be played again.

“Our greenkeeper has put a new hole cup in so the ball doesn’t go down the bottom of the hole, and we are looking at things for golf to return safely.”

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Graham Forsyth, president of Galashiels Golf Club, says members are desperate to return to its fairways and greens.

He said: “We have had a meeting and are prepared and ready to go.

“The course is ready. It’s just a case of waiting on guidelines from government.

“The thing with Galashiels golf course is that it is sited on common good ground, therefore there has been a lot of people walking up there anyway and even picnicking on our greens, which has been rather disconcerting.

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“We have golfers paying a lot of money to be a member of a golf club. They are not allowed to play and yet people can walk on it still.

“We can easily maintain two-metre social distancing, no problem at all, and we are desperate to get back, to be honest.”

Steve Ervine, secretary at Melrose Golf Club, said: “What we would do is probably just play two at a time, the hole cups would be turned upside down so the ball doesn’t fall down, there would be no rakes in the bunkers and we’d probably keep our clubhouse closed and keep it to members only to begin with.

“People tend to use Melrose golf course as a walking area anyway.

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“There’s a lot of people walking out with their dogs, which can cause a little bit of problem for us on the course, so there needs to be a bit of awareness of these walkers once we start again.

“There may be a slight conflict there, but I am sure people will see that golf is being played again and take the appropriate precautions.”

Jamie Stewart, director of the Scottish Countryside Alliance, agrees, saying: “The Scottish Government should review its guidance on outdoor sporting activities such as angling and shooting at the earliest opportunity now that other parts of the UK have started to permit them.

“Angling and shooting are naturally self-isolating activities and can be successfully undertaken alone or with the necessary social distancing.

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“In addition, they bring great benefit in terms of health and mental wellbeing, both of which have been significantly impacted on by the lockdown.”

Christine Grahame, MSP for Midlothian South, Tweeddale and Lauderdale, isn’t convinced the time is right yet to lift restrictions on outdoor pursuits, however.

She said: “The response in the north of England to the blanket lifting of restrictions across England has been one of concern where the virus levels are close to the alarming R figure of one.

“Scotland is not alone in rejecting Boris Johnson’s ill-thought-out plans. Northern Ireland and Wales have a similar approach to Scotland, so it is England which has severed the four-nation approach, and surveys of public opinion in Scotland have shown that over 80% of Scots support the continuation of the current restrictions.

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“The Scottish Government will ease outdoor restrictions, as it has already done , when it is good and safe to do so.

“This is not about party politics or constitutional tussles but about protecting the National Health Service, our care workers, posties and all who face this virus day in day out.

“There are people trapped in flats with little or no access to the outdoors, let alone outdoor pursuits, and they are sticking with this lockdown, and I would hope that others in a more fortunate situation would remember them and continue to show patience.”

Scottish Government first minister Nicola Sturgeon plans to announce a review of her lockdown exit strategy this Thursday, May 21, with a view to possibly lifting some restrictions a week or two later.

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At her daily Covid-19 update today, she said: “We will continue, and again I want to stress this, to take a cautious approach that ensures the virus is suppressed while seeking to restore as much normality as possible when it is safe to do so.

“However, Thursday’s routemap will confirm that, assuming we see progress in suppressing the virus, the first phase will start from the next formal review date of May 28.

“Within a few days of that, we will aim to allow, for example, more outdoor activity – such as being able to sit in the park, meet up outdoors with someone from another household, as long as you stay socially distanced; some limited outdoor sporting activities, like golf and fishing; the opening of garden centres and recycling facilities; and the resumption of some outdoor work.”

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