THE format of Hampshire’s league campaign was set to be decided yesterday – and could result in another COVID compromise for the 2021 season.

The lifting of COVID-19 restrictions under the Government’s road map should see the last vestiges of rules affecting matches in the England Golf South East League lifted – namely restrictions on overnight stays – from May 17.

Hampshire’s first game of the season in the South Division is away to Dorset and planned for May 9. County captain Neil Dawson was keen to play 36 holes at Broadstone, with four foursomes matches in the morning – followed by eight singles after lunch. The short travelling distance between the two counties meant Hampshire’s team would have been able to travel down early enough to prepare thoroughly for what is a long day out on the course.

But the South East Group has to look at a calendar for the north division, which stretches from Middlesex and Essex to the North Home Counties and Norfolk and Suffolk. The restrictions on overnight accommodation means matches played before May 17 have to be played over 18 holes to be fair to the away team.

Matchday catering also has to be arranged outside up until that date, and with the danger that restrictions could be reimposed at any point during the summer, the South East League officials are mindful that restricting all matches to 18 holes may be the fairest and easiest way to ensure a champion is crowned by October. The only other alternative with an incomplete fixture list would be to turn the October match between the North and South Division winners into an 11-strong finals day – as was planned for 2020 until an England Golf ruling meant the proposed season finale was also cancelled. County secretary David Wheeler will be the representative for Hampshire Golf, which incorporates the Isle of Wight and Channel Islands, at yesterday’s (Thursday, March 10) crucial meeting when the final decision will be taken.

David said: “The South East Group was forced to cancel all fixtures in both divisions last year because of the first lockdown. Plans for a league final, which Hampshire were due to host at Hayling in October, also had to be scrapped so there was no South East Champion for the first time since the competition began back in 1964.“Everyone is keen to try and play the divisional matches this year – hopefully that should be made easier as the restrictions lift during the Spring. But a sticking point could be that normal rules on deciding the South and North Division winners – in the event of a tie – could become more of a lottery If one or even two of the four for five matches each county play is only made up of eight singles matches.”

The “goals difference” formula used to decide the competition is based on the 12 game points available in each match. With some counties having reputations for being stronger in foursomes golf rather than singles matches, the fact one game will only have eight points from the latter available to decide the result, could influence the eventual outcome.

Another possible proposal on the table at yesterday's meeting could be to increase the number of players in each team to 10 – if the mood is to support an 18-hole format. But that is sure to favour the stronger counties like Essex, Surrey and Hampshire, and less popular with the smaller counties.