Coronavirus: Boom time for golf in Singapore with courses full; spending time outdoors seen as 'safe'

Golfers travel in their buggies at the Keppel Club golf course on March 27, 2020. ST PHOTO: GIN TAY

SINGAPORE - Even as many sporting facilities and activities have been restricted or stopped in Singapore due to the coronavirus pandemic, many here are dusting off their irons and heading to the range to get back into the swing of things.

Golf clubs told The Straits Times their bookings have increased, one by as much as 15 per cent in March compared to the previous month, while a check on the Marina Bay Golf Course (MBGC) - a public facility - shows limited slots,and for only nine holes, are available this week until Sunday (April 5).

Yvonne Toh, 30, felt that with some gyms closed, golf is one of the few alternatives for exercise. She also noted tee times at Orchid Country Club (OCC) and National Service Resort & Country Club are quickly snapped up one week in advance, while MBGC can be fully booked on weekends.

The assistant marketing communications manager added: "Golf is perceived as a safer sport and activity during this virus outbreak as it is played in open air, but still allows golfers to get the 4.5 hours exercise.

"However, there is always still a risk in enclosed spaces such as the changing rooms and F&B outlets at the places we play golf at. Hence, we try to reduce the time spent with flight mates after the game."

Sales director Jasmine Cheng, 39, is playing thrice instead of twice a week now. She said: "I do see an increase in golfers recently because the flights are full almost every day, which is more than usual.

"I think it is because more people are working from home and the travel restrictions preventing them from going to Malaysia or Indonesia to play golf."

The 2018 Singapore Golf Industry Report noted there were 46,000 golfers that held membership to the 12 private country clubs here and 55 per cent of them were over the age of 55.

Clubs have introduced a variety of precautionary measures in light of the Covid-19 outbreak. These range from temperature screenings to more creative methods such as implementing a one golfer per buggy rule and installing plastic dividers in the carts. Some, like OCC, are also limiting the number of users in the changing rooms.

At the Singapore Island Country Club, golfers are encouraged to walk instead of using buggies while Keppel Club will begin putting up partitions between the two seats in the carts from Wednesday (April 1). Its communications manager Joan Yap added "all buggies are washed and sanitised before they are used".

A MBGC spokesman said the golf course has changed the tee times on selected days to "facilitate golfer traffic and enhance operational efficiency".

Singapore Golf Association (SGA) general manager Jerome Ng is heartened by the "active communication and unity among the clubs". He added: "The Covid-19 situation remains very fluid and our golf clubs have been preemptive and adaptive to the required changes with golfers' safety as the utmost priority.

"Together with the golfing community, SGA will continue to do our part to ensure that golfing activities in Singapore will comply with the various government efforts and advisories from Sport Singapore."

Infectious diseases specialist Leong Hoe Nam sees no problems with golf getting the go-ahead in the current circumstances. Dr Leong added: "It is relatively safe because viruses hate the sun and golf is an outdoor sport. The issue is with human interaction, and social distancing must be implemented.

"It is unlikelier for one to catch the virus on the golf course, compared to the rest areas where people are in close proximity. One way to make it safer would be to play golf alone and avoid groups."

However, not every golf course is experiencing a surge in traffic. The Mandai Executive Golf Course, which is another public facility, has followed SportSG's advisory and banned all youth and non-golfers from entering its premises.

This has hit it hard as around 70 per cent of its 15 teaching pros' clientele are junior golfers.

Poh Eng Teck, managing director of Poh Bros Golf Management that runs the course, told ST: "Ours is a nine-hole course which is more catered for beginners, and is too short for seasoned golfers.

"Because most of those who take lessons here are youth, some of our teaching pros have a lot of time off, especially on the weekends. Following the guidelines, we also allow only one golfer to enter our pro shop at any time, and golfers also cannot eat at the cafeteria anymore. As such, our business has definitely been affected.

"We don't know how long this will last, and we can only hope the situation returns to normal as soon as possible."

Additional reporting by Neo Yee Pung

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