During lockdown, golf courses provided invaluable areas of open space for people to safely take their daily exercise. Their contribution to local collective well-being has been greatly appreciated. Inevitably, as lockdown eases and the playing of golf resumes, golf courses will become less available to the general public.

Whilst the resumption of playing golf will reduce the availability of this type of open space, there continue to be specific statutory access rights which still apply to golf courses. Any measures to manage public access alongside the playing of golf must respect these rights.

There is a public right to cross land (not the greens) which forms part of a golf course, provided this is done so responsibly. However, unlike other areas of land to which the public right of access applies, there is no right of recreation on a golf course. As each person only has access rights if these are exercised responsibly, it may be useful to consider the following non-exhaustive list of what responsible access looks like in a golfing context:

  • keeping off greens at all times to ensure there is no damage to playing surfaces
  • not interfering with games of golf
  • allowing players to play their shot before crossing a fairway
  • being still when close to a player about to play a shot
  • being aware there may be hazards such as “blind shots” where a golfer will not have sight of anyone ahead of them, so paying attention to golfers, signage and/or advice from marshalls
  • walkers should follow paths where they exist; cyclists and horse riders need to keep to paths at all times
  • keeping dogs on a short lead
  • as the access right is to cross land, not more generally recreational, there is no picnicking, no kite-flying etc. and certainly no building of sand-castles in bunkers

The Land Reform (Scotland) Act 2003 places a duty upon landowners to use and manage land in a way which as respects access rights is responsible. The Scottish Outdoor Access Code (SOAC) provides a practical guide to responsible behaviour for both land managers and the general public regarding access rights and golf courses. Wherever possible, paths should be provided around or across the course and/or advice given to people on the safest way through the course. The SOAC website also provides guidance on suitable signage to help clubs manage public access to golf courses.

In addition to statutory access rights, some golf courses may have core paths, public rights of way and even public roads crossing them. Public access along any of these may not be restricted.

Should golf courses be concerned about managing potentially increased levels of public access they can contact their local council or national park authority access officer for advice.