Golf clubs not allowed to hold competitions until June 7th due to Covid-19 restrictions

Protocols say competitive action can’t begin until same day as all other outdoor sport

Golfers return to play at Tullamore Golf Club on April 26th. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

Golfers return to play at Tullamore Golf Club on April 26th. Photo: James Crombie/Inpho

 

Golf clubs in the Republic of Ireland will be prohibited from holding formal competitions until June 7th at the earliest. Under new protocols issued by Golf Ireland to clubs last Friday, it is stated that competitive golf – including inter-club activity – will not commence until June 7th, the same day all other outdoor sport is allowed to resume competitive action.

Last year, after the country’s first lockdown, golf clubs reopened on May 18th and were allowed to hold competitions from June 29th – three weeks before competitive play was allowed in most other outdoor sports. If the same return to competitive sport timetable applied this year, golf clubs would be allowed to host competitions from May 17th onwards.

Golf Ireland are keen to recommence competitions as soon as it is safe to do so and are in talks with Sport Ireland and the Expert Group on Sport about the issue but it appears that Government regulations have changed this year to group competitive golf in with the likes of competitive soccer and rugby – all of which are slated to return on June 7th.

Golf Ireland said: “In line with the latest announcements from the Irish Government on April 29, Sport Ireland have confirmed that formal or organised competitions across any sport are prohibited until June 7 (subject to the prevailing health situation at the time).”

Most clubs had hoped that competitions would be permitted from some time in May, given that competitive rounds can be played in much the same manner as casual rounds while three and fourballs are allowed from May 10th. Last year directives around competitive golf were brought in which meant golfers marked their own cards and common touchpoints such as score-entry computers had hand sanitiser beside them or were even dispensed with altogether as golfers can now submit their scores via the Club V1 app instead.

However, as it stands, the date for a return to competitive golf will be June 7th, the same day outdoor hospitality will be allowed to reopen and five days after hotels and guesthouses open back up. This further delay also means clubs will have to wait almost another five weeks before they can take in competition fees from member events and open competitions – a vital source of revenue for most clubs.

Golf courses reopened on Monday, April 26th after almost four months of closure with play initially confined to members only from a maximum of two households in each group. From May 10th three and fourballs will be allowed, clubs can also allow visitors to play and all domestic travel restrictions will end meaning golfers can play at courses all around the country.

‘Handicap-counting activity’

But golf clubs are still seeking clarity from Golf Ireland and Government on the issue of competitions as the protocols do state that they can still run “handicap-counting activity” where players are charged an entry fee, submit their scores and results are published.

The updated frequently asked questions on the Covid-19 section of the Golf Ireland website say that “a club can facilitate handicap-counting activities that occur based on the principal of ‘arrive-play-depart without delay.’”

It goes on to say that “clubs may facilitate a form of play that involves the submission of scores for handicapping purposes, which under the Rules of Handicapping may take the form of either a) General Play with scores submitted in a manner prescribed by the club, which may include the Golf Ireland app or b) with the computer system set up for a competition, for the purposes of collating all scores on the day and calculating a PCC (Playing Conditions Calculation).”

The document confirms that clubs can charge an entry fee, players can sign-in via the computer terminal, enter their scores afterwards and results can be published internally to membership databases. Essentially, going by the guidelines, golf clubs can play a type of informal competition with the protocols going on to say that such activities must not be promoted as competitions, prize presentations must not be organised and results must not be published publically.

A view of Clontarf Golf Club ahead of last year’s first reopening. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho
A view of Clontarf Golf Club ahead of last year’s first reopening. Photo: Ryan Byrne/Inpho

The title of the activity on the computer system must simply be the form of play - such as “singles stableford” or “singles strokeplay” - and not the titles regularly associated with competitions such as “monthly medal” or “junior scratch cup” and so on. This, according to the Golf Ireland document, is to “ensure clear differentiation between these activities and competitive sport.”

However, most clubs have opted not to run informal activities in this way as they are unsure of what exactly they can and can’t do.

It should also be noted that, under the new World Handicap System, all players can register casual rounds (categorised as General Play on the system) on the Golf Ireland app before they tee off and then submit their score, which will count towards their handicap, once the round is complete.

The June 7th date for a return to competitive action including inter-club events is evidently later than Golf Ireland had expected as recent regional draws set out that very day as the deadline for the first round of matches in competitions such as the Fred Daly, the Senior Foursomes and the Intermediate Cup with deadlines in the likes of the Junior Cup and Senior Cup falling a week later.

With those competitions now prohibited from even starting until June 7th at the earliest it will require some reworking of this year’s cups and shields schedule.

Contradictory

Last week a number of clubs including the European Club, Ballyliffin and Carne questioned Golf Ireland’s guidelines after it emerged that Minister of State for Sport Jack Chambers had said in the Dáil that “the public health regulations do not draw a distinction between members and non-members in the case of golf.” This was contradictory to the protocols released by Golf Ireland which stated that, in the initial phase of reopening, clubs could only allow members to play - a directive which disproportionately affects clubs who rely mainly on visitor fees. Carne and the European Club were two courses that announced last week they would be open to visitors in line with Government directives.

In the North, golf clubs have been permitted to hold formal competitions, open competitions and interclub activity since last Friday April 30th while clubhouse bars are also allowed to serve food and drink outdoors.

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