Shock at golf clubs as sport faces shutdown in Level 5

Golf was one of the first sports back in May and has operated smoothly since

A view of members of the public playing golf at Bunclody Golf Club while adhering to social distancing on the day courses reopened in May. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

A view of members of the public playing golf at Bunclody Golf Club while adhering to social distancing on the day courses reopened in May. Photo: Dan Sheridan/Inpho

 

There was widespread surprise and disappointment at golf clubs around Ireland on Wednesday when the news emerged that they would be ordered to shut for the next six weeks as part of Level 5 of the government’s Plan for Living with Covid-19.

Golf was one of the first sports to resume when phase one of the Covid-19 exit strategy began on May 18th and the sport has seen a huge increase in participation levels over the last five months. With the new Level 5 restrictions due to come in to place from midnight on Wednesday, the GUI and ILGU had been engaged in discussions with Sport Ireland as to whether or not courses could remain open.

Initially the sense was that golf would be permitted to continue, potentially restricted to members only living with 5km of the course as was the case in May. However, on Wednesday news began to emerge that all sports - barring those at elite level - would shut down for the duration of the Level 5 restrictions.

Given the nature of golf being played in wide open spaces with no direct contact between players, the decision has come into question.

At Co Sligo Golf Club in Rosses Point, general manager David O’Donovan says that the news came as a surprise, particularly given everything had been running so smoothly at clubs around the country over the last five months.

“It doesn’t really make sense when soccer, GAA and rugby can still go ahead while golf is perfectly suited for social distancing. I would have thought members only within the 5km, as we had before, would be the way to go. It’s very disappointing.” he says.

“When you look at the makeup of the people who are making the decisions, I wonder if they know what they’re deciding. Nobody is playing down the seriousness of the deaths every day and the number of cases but how many of them are linked to golf and golf clubs? None. Okay, you can say the golf society that went out to Tullamore to some extent but that was something different. That wasn’t a member in a club playing a round of golf. The golf course was somewhere to go and people felt safe.”

O’Donovan says that Co Sligo have lost €500,000 this year due to the absence of international visitors - the course would usually have a high volume of US tourists playing during the summer - and in the week when Dublin was moved to Level 3, restricting people from travelling outside their county, the club lost €34,600 in cancelled bookings during that week alone.

After hearing of the news on Wednesday he says that his evening will be “spent making layoffs”.

“These people are being let go now and we did this before for four weeks and it ended up being nine and now suddenly we’re doing it again for six weeks but it could be 12 weeks, could be 10 weeks. Those people have families and have children to feed and that’s where it’s very, very difficult.”

At Galway Golf Club - one of the busiest courses in the country - just under 43,500 rounds were played on the course since it reopened in May through to the end of September. For the same period last year that number was 29,000. But despite that level of demand, manager Dave Kelly says everything has run smoothly.

“I have a packed golf course here, albeit it at 10-minute intervals but it’s full from eight this morning to eight this evening,” he says. “Even at that it’s only roughly 160 golfers out in 10-minute intervals on a 100 acre site with only 70 or 80 on the course at any one time so it’s hard to reconcile how you can’t operate a 100 acre site but you can have 30 lads chasing around a ball on a football or a hurling field.

“I’m not sure whether the whole ‘Golfgate’ thing in the summer has come against golf in general. I don’t think it should have because that was the irresponsibility of a small number of people that golf just got dragged into. Certainly my understanding from dealing with fellow club managers around the country is that I haven’t heard of any outbreak at any club. It’s a difficult one to fathom.”

After courses reopened on May 18th, Water Rock in Co Cork as well as Castle Barna in Co Offaly closed permanently while Killorglin and Castleisland in Kerry amalgamated into one. Recently, the owners of Charlesland Golf Club in Co Wicklow announced that the club will close at the end of the year. Last year Dunmurry Springs and Hollystown shut their doors. With clubs now facing temporary layoffs and closure for six weeks at least - with a long winter to follow - the question is how many more might fall by the wayside?

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