Yes, we’ve said it twice before, but outdoor sports are (nearly) back! The next phase of Boris Johnson’s roadmap is scheduled to be implemented on Monday March 29 – and that includes Sportsiders being able to play golf and outdoor tennis again.
Again, the fear within most sports has been that participation will wane because of the lockdown and an interesting survey released by popular golf magazine Golfshake shone a light into what golf needs to do to continue its recent resurgence of interest in the sport among the younger generation.
Golfshake concludes that golf needs to continue to diversify and offer young players ever growing numbers of ways to get into the game.
The survey – How Did You Get Into Golf? – highlighted an interesting pattern, showing the venues where new players are first introduced to the game is possibly changing.
Municipal, public golf courses have for years been seen as the way into the sport but many are being closed, leading many more beginners to start their golf journey on the driving range.
From those surveyed, over 44 per cent of players who had started in the past 10 years said the range was where they started playing, compared with 22 per cent from players who had started over 10 years ago.
The range gives beginners the chance to hit lots of balls in a relaxed environment – with as many friends as you like (as opposed to the limit of four on the course) – and is a place that we advocate to Sportsiders to check out if they are thinking about golf as a new pursuit.
It used to be that around 46 per cent of new golfers said they started out at their local but that number has shrunk, it is thought, because people didn’t have time for 18 – or sometimes even 9 – holes and the range allows that flexibility to spend just 30 minutes or an hour on your game if that’s all you have time for.
But, as Golfshake is keen to emphasise, public golf is still a vital pathway with the shorter 9-hole courses proving a breeding ground for many established players today. Over 21% of those surveyed said this was their first experience, rising to 31% for golfers playing less than 10 years and even further to 36% for the limited group of golfers who only started playing within the last two years.
Tennis, meanwhile, has the same battle on its hands after months of seeing courts closed across the country. But perhaps the biggest blow to the game over the past 12 months has been the cancellation of last year’s Wimbledon. The quintessentially English event not only generates much-needed funds for the sport but also has the potential to encourage the public – young and old – to pick up a racquet.
But the Wimbledon queue – one of the grand institutions of the British sporting summer – has already been scrapped for this year’s event, as The Telegraph reported last week.
As the All England Club looks to host a bio-secure event, it ruled that spectators would just be too close in the traditional queue, where so many tennis hopes and dreams have been formed over the years, and that, like the gatherings on Henman Hill, it cannot exist this year.
For the best part of the last 100 years tennis fans without Wimbledon tickets have been arriving on the day (or overnight!) to wait patiently in line in the hope of securing a ground pass for one of the most wonderful sporting events in the world.
“Given the likelihood of continued social distancing requirements and with consideration for the health and safety of all the public, there will not be a Queue or Ticket Resale in operation for this year’s Championships,” said the AELTC in a statement. “Both the Queue and Ticket Resale remain much-loved and important Wimbledon traditions, and we look forward to their return in 2022.”
Spectator numbers for this summer’s Wimbledon will be significantly down on the half-a-million fans who come through the gates in a normal year. The usual daily maximum number of 42,000, looks set to be down to around 15,000.
The return of Wimbledon will be one thing to increase tennis participation this summer, but Andy Murray playing – and winning – at Wimbledon would be quite another. But Murray, who had to withdraw from this week’s Miami Open with a groin injury, reckons he can still “compete with the best players in the biggest tournaments”.
“I know that I’m still capable of playing at the highest level,” Murray said in an interview with Prime Video.
“Before Australia, like in December I was chatting to my team about the Aussie Open. I was like: ‘I really feel like I can still go deep in that tournament’.
“I was starting to believe it, visualise it and stuff – which hadn’t been the case last year or anything.
“So, my expectation is to go and do well in these events. Winning [Wimbledon] right now is probably a bit ambitious, but I do feel like I can compete with the top, top players in the world.
“Then hopefully in a few months time if I’m able to remain on the court and healthy, with more matches and stuff, it’ll start to happen more regularly.
“I want to be on the courts at Wimbledon and feeling like I have a chance of winning the event. I’m aware that that would be extremely tough, but I do genuinely believe it’s possible.
“I need weeks and months of training and practsising and matches and good health. But I do feel like it’s possible.
“I’m sure some people will think I’m delusional and that my best days are behind me and everything – which may be the case. But I still feel I can compete with the best players in the biggest tournaments.”
With the weather improving, lockdown easing and Andy Murray talking about winning tournaments again – the summer is full of sporting promise again.