Compleat Golfer’s playing editor Brandon Stone takes you behind the scenes on the European Tour under Covid-19 restrictions.
These are strange times we’re living in. In decades to come we will look back at 2020 and think, what was going on there? Everyone, everywhere will have their own story. For us, as professional golfers on one of the major golf circuits, it is no different.
First and foremost I have to extend a massive congratulations to the European Tour’s chief executive Keith Pelley and his team. The work they have done to get this Tour back on its feet can not be understated. The European Tour has thought of absolutely everything, down to the last detail, when it comes to the health and safety of the players and the staff.
I want to give you an insight of how life is for us inside the ‘bubble’. This is how things are for the foreseeable future, far removed from how things were before Covid-19 struck.
Our first responsibility as golfers is to complete a symptom checklist. This is sent to us via email and the raft of questions range from whether we’ve had a fever to if we have a sore throat. The check and email reply takes no longer than two minutes, but it’s a daily thing and one of the first things we do to start the day.
When we arrive on site to check in for the tournament, we have to do the ever-so-enjoyable earbud up the nose. You can probably guess my sarcasm here because the feeling of someone tickling your brain through your nose will never be fun. No matter how many times I do it, there is no getting used to it.
Once we’ve done the test we have to self-isolate in our hotel rooms until we receive a negative result back. That waiting process takes about four hours and it’s time we simply have to build into our day.
Despite the series of negative results, that doesn’t mean there is no stress attached. The mind is a powerful tool and can play tricks with you, so those hours spent in isolation in the hotel room aren’t enjoyable either. There’s always the thought, ‘what if?’ But, then the results come back and you can breathe a massive sigh of relief when they’re negative. That means we can go back to work again – our day job of playing golf.
Once you’re at the course the safety measures are even more stringent. On the practice range the hitting bays are set two metres apart. In the players’ dining area the tables are also two metres apart. You will have seen crowded putting greens before. This is all a thing of the past, with limitations to the number of people allowed on the putting green at any one time. All these measures are in place so that we follow social distancing regulations.
But we do get to embrace the ‘Buddy System’. Simply put, that is your ‘buddy in the bubble’. It is the only person you are allowed to sit and eat with. For the first three weeks after the Tour resumed, only the golfer’s caddie was allowed to be the buddy, but after that we were allowed to assign another two people to our buddy system. That really helped the small talk at dinner, because my caddie and I were already spending every minute of the day together.
The Tour also made some small, yet significant regulations for tournament play to combat the spread of any bacteria. Bunker rakes were removed for all practice rounds and in tournament play only one caddie in the group is allowed to touch the rake. Once they have used the rake they have to then use sanitiser to disinfect the surface that was touched. The same rules apply for the flagstick. Although, instead of removing the flags, which would really make it challenging, they’ve installed the ever-popular ball popper. One of the stranger things is the scoring. We score for ourselves, then have a verbal confirmation in the scorers’ office.
Hotels have become even more boring than they were. Room service has now officially become my staple ‘date night’ on Tour. Dinners consist of the ‘special of the day’ while calling my wife on video, since no spouses are allowed to travel. I’ve also been missing my trainer, Gavin Groves. It’s always nice having the team around you. Hopefully they will be able to travel sooner rather that later.
It’s safe to say the manner of doing normal day-to-day things seems quite alien. But the European Tour has truly outdone themselves and I’m proud to be associated with them. But most importantly of all, I’m just thrilled to be back at work. Hopefully the smile on my face has shown that.