It’s taken months of planning and sleepless nights to get England Golf’s Amateur Championships back up and running. Steve Carroll went to Woodhall Spa to see how it all worked
Sanitiser stations are in places you’d never even think to look. The magic number is 37.8 degrees. Anything higher and you’re not coming in.
Huge banners everywhere remind you that social distancing is not a request.
If coronavirus sets you on edge, perhaps the only way England Golf could have made you feel more comfortable at Woodhall Spa was to set up an armchair.
“We have been meticulous in our planning to ensure people’s safety,” says James Crampton, the governing body’s director of championships, who has masterminded the plan allowing the English men’s and women’s Amateur Championships to take place this week.
“Our starting point was to set as an absolute priority the wellbeing of players, staff and volunteers. We have liaised with the authorities and DCMS throughout this planning process to make sure everything we do is in step with wider public health regulations.
“There is going to be a little anxiety – people are staying away for the first time in hotels, they are travelling to a different place from a home they have spent three months in.
“But I hope they’ve felt relaxed and much more comfortable to be able to concentrate on trying to play and perform well.”
It was a brave person, back in March as the shutters came down across the country, who could have predicted this: 288 players negotiating the Lincolnshire venue’s Hotchkin and Bracken courses at the end of July.
While we learned about furlough and rediscovered the value of community in between, Crampton was also feverishly planning – for a set of tournament dates he wasn’t even sure were achievable.
“It was all done without the assurance we were going to be in a position where we could run the tournament,” he adds of the process.
“We were working blind. We obviously had a pretty good idea that certain things were going to have to be put in place – particularly around the Rules and contact with people.
“Once a provisional schedule was there, we started the planning processes – as we would in terms of running any tournament – with those in mind.”
That planning was not straightforward – “I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about it – a few sleepless nights if I was going to confess”, admits Crampton.
Yet it was not the number of initial competitors, split across those two courses, which caused the most concern ahead of the season opener.
“It’s keeping the numbers down on site. One of the practices we have in place now is we are only allowing players to be on site 75 minutes before their start time.
“What that effectively means is there are about 50 players at any one time prior to their tee time on site.
“When you think those 50 players are scattered around the clubhouse, two putting greens, the driving range and short game facility – 50 people over those four or five areas on a vast, outdoor site is actually very few.
“The number of people congregating is kept to a minimum and always within the regulations on physical distancing. We have a players’ entrance. If players try and come in before their 75 minutes, they are turned away.
“We do give them a bit of time once they have finished their rounds – to have warm downs and things like that. But we are able to control how many people are on site at any one time.”
Social distancing on the course, and avoiding touch points, has just become part and parcel of playing in a Covid-19 world. There are penalties in a Code of Conduct for anyone who repeatedly transgresses.
The unusual circumstances we find ourselves in during the pandemic, though, has also allowed England Golf to look at new ways of getting their messages across.
Terms and conditions, pin positions, hard cards, tee times – anything players, officials or volunteers need to know – are provided electronically.
The results, believes Crampton, have been remarkably effective.
“Our communication with people has probably been as good as it’s ever been. They are now getting it via text messages and emails, as opposed to PDF documents, which we know quite often they don’t read.
“This is certainly something we are going to look at for the future – communicating more in a text message way – because we know they are more likely to access that information.”
If perception is everything, it starts from the moment you arrive when you have a momentary date with an official wearing a mask and wielding a temperature gun.
It’s a process that takes about five seconds and, despite its somewhat clinical nature, it’s also strangely reassuring.
“Temperature testing has worked well and we’ve had lots of positive comments,” says Crampton. “Nobody is allowed on site – officials, players, accompanying guests, volunteers – who doesn’t have their temperature taken on a daily basis.
“If they are above 37.8 degrees, they are not allowed on premises. There are no ifs or buts.
“It is, ‘You’re not coming in, go home and get tested.’ We are very strict on that and any player, who has somehow got into the facility, will not be allowed to tee off until they have been temperature tested.
“We have had zero complaints. We are recording all those temperatures and we are able to track every person that comes onto the site.
“We are doing track and trace for all the officials, accompanying guests, and anyone we don’t have contact details for.
“It’s certainly giving people a strong sense of security. The competitors know that the governing body is acting with total responsibility and doing all it can do to ensure that people playing the championship are in a safe environment.”
What this week – England Golf’s biggest in terms of the competitions they host – has shown is that the exhaustive planning was worth it. The processes work and they have a framework they can take with confidence to venues up and down the country as their revised tournament schedule unwinds over the next couple of months.
“We are going to retain the 75 minute period players are allowed on site, the player entrances and testing, for all our tournaments,” says Crampton.
“We’ve been and looked at the host venues we are going to over the next few weeks. They are places we have been before and so we’ve got a good understanding and relationship.
“Everyone will be temperature tested, they will be allowed on site for a particular time and the hand sanitisers will be in place when we go on site.
“We anticipate doing exactly the same thing as we have done here. And, subject to any more government guidelines changing, we will adapt as we find out.
“This week has gone about as well as it could have gone. The one thing we do hope for, and have fingers crossed for, is just to have some nice weather.
“If we get poor weather that creates a situation where people are more likely to congregate indoors. However, there is no compromise on people’s safety and we have plans in place to cope with such a scenario. We have had no such issues here.
“We have had no such issues here. So now we just need some luck.”
You can see the full rundown of results on the England Golf website.