Norfolk golf looking positive in tough times

From Left: Chris Taylor (President), Andrew Marshall (Coach), Robert Barnard (Vice President)

From Left: Chris Taylor (President), Andrew Marshall (Coach), Robert Barnard (Vice President) - Credit: Archant

Norfolk golfers ‘kick start’ their season with the County Handicap this weekend – we look at how golf has fared since it became one of the first sports to return to some sort of normality

Back on Wednesday, May 13, thousands of Norfolk golfers returned to their prospective clubs – and several have played nearly every day since.

At the start of lockdown, there was a ‘doom and gloom’ concern about the future of some clubs, with uncertainty over membership renewals and the affordability of golf as a sport going forward. But several weeks after the return to golf, the early signs are very positive, with most clubs in the county reporting better than expected membership renewals, with the added bonus of a significant number of new members joining most clubs.

This has partly been brought about by the reduced amount of tee times available at clubs, due to the limit of two players per tee time at 10-minute intervals, so the majority were not able to take visitors. This has since been relaxed to allow four players per tee time, but with some golfers still being off work, there is still a high demand. The other significant factor is that golf is being viewed as a very safe sport to play, with plenty of social distancing.

With most golf clubs reporting 30 to 40 new members since golf resumed, there are possibly 1,000 or more extra members on the county membership list – encouraging news for the future of the game.

The Norfolk County Golf Union AGM was programmed for April 1, but had to be postponed due to the corona virus outbreak. With a reduced programme of inter County matches, president Chris Taylor will continue in the position through 2020 and vice-president Robert Barnard will now take over the role in 2021. County first and second team captains, Simon Clark and Shaun Larkins will continue in their positions, although the traditional five Anglian League matches against other Eastern Counties teams have been replaced with a first and second teams tournament at Seacroft in Lincolnshire in September.

Norfolk have appointed former European Tour player Andrew Marshall to coach the two squads.

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Before lockdown both squads were doing short game coaching at the Norwich Family Golf Centre with Marshall and Lewis Clarke, the resident professional, followed by practice matches at Dereham, Marshall’s home club, and Wensum Valley.

“I am really pleased to have been asked to work with the Norfolk first and second team squads,” said Marshall. “We have a really good bunch of lads to work with. It has come at a good time in my career, as I have another three years before I can try to qualify for the Seniors Tour. It is a great shame we didn’t get the chance to play the other counties in the Anglian League, but I am thoroughly looking forward to the two tournaments at Seacroft in September.”

For the first time, Norfolk had elected two clubs to host their Anglian League matches – Royal Norwich for first team matches and the Wensum Course at Taverham for second team matches.

The main county sponsors, Heacham Manor Hotel and Golf Club, have agreed to back the county again through difficult times, along with new sponsors Norfolk Dry Walling, Norwich Family Golf Centre and Peter Field Golf Shop.

The Norfolk County Golf Union still intend to hold all their Championships this summer, in a slightly more condensed programme. This will include the Seniors’ and Boys’ Championships, as well as the eagerly-awaited Norfolk Open on the relatively new Royal Norwich course – this is open to professionals as well as amateurs.

The county programme starts with the Norfolk Handicap Championship on Sunday at Eaton, followed by the County Amateur Championship at Thetford on Sunday August 2.

Other dates are:

Thursday August 6 – Seniors Championship, Swaffham

Sunday August 16 – County Foursomes, Gt Yarmouth & Caister

Monday August 17 – Boys’ Championship, Ryston Park

Thursday August 27 – Norfolk Open, Royal Norwich

Sunday September 20 – Coronation Salvers, Bawburgh

Saturday and Sunday October 10-11 – Match Play Championship, Heacham Manor

The county are running four Order of Merit events, instead of the traditional seven. Dates are:

Sunday July 12 - at Bawburgh

Sunday July 26 - Swaffham

Sunday August 9 - Eaton

Sunday September 6 - Middleton Hall.

Points are accumulated from the OOM events, towards the Matchplay Championships at Heacham Manor in October

President Taylor said: “No one could have possibly predicted a situation like this. The whole world has been affected by this pandemic and inevitably some things in the county’s golfing calendar had to be cancelled, or postponed. For this reason it seemed sensible for me to see this season through, hopefully allowing Robert Barnard a full and unaffected year in 2021. We are very pleased we have managed to re-arrange all of the County Championships and we are very grateful to the clubs that have still agreed to host them.”