THE news that golf courses were set to close under Level 5 restrictions was a blow to golfers.
Despite an initial view after the announcement on Monday evening that golf could continue, Sport Ireland confirmed on Wednesday that courses should close.
As it was one of the first sported to be allowed back in May, there were hopes that a return to the previously used phase one limits would allow recreational golf to continue.
The initial news that tennis was to remain open added to the hope but on Wednesday it was confirmed that golf and tennis were to close.
Social media was alive with comments and criticism of the decision. The golfing authorities came in for some sustained negative comments but a statement clarifying the Sport Ireland position on Thursday pointed to a decision by Sports Ireland.
The additional guidance from the Government body seemed to indicate that they wanted to reinforce the Government position on domestic travel restrictions. While this limits everyone to a travel radius of 5km, it also has a clear recommendation to stay at home unless travelling for a prescribed reason.
The disappointment for golfers continued when it was mentioned by the Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly that a review of course closures over the next five weeks was unlikely.
In addition to courses closing, the advice was that all ranges and practice facilities should close. This effectively closes off the sport for all golfers for the six week period. The exception for training for school going is allowed but it unclear if clubs will avail of this.
It’s also unclear what definition of 'elite' applies to golf. There are exceptions for the elite level of sports, this includes professional rugby and soccer and also senior inter-county GAA matches.
While there are no professional golf events scheduled in Ireland over the coming month, it’s expected that professional golfers will continue to play in events in Europe.
James Sugrue is due to play in the Masters in three weeks, and it is unclear if his practice plans will be affected by the restrictions.
While it was clear to most golfers that this decision to close was on the back of a Government or Sport Ireland instruction, many more golfers put the blame back on the governing bodies. Following intense criticism on social media, the GUI and ILGU issued a statement adding further clarification to their position.
“We have consistently highlighted the health and mental health benefits of golf and the strong compliance with the safety protocols which has ensured that our sport has been a safe outlet for people of all ages over the past five months. We have also highlighted the substantial employment in the sector and the benefits of golf to the Irish economy.
"The Government has decided however, that Level 5 restrictions mean that all sports facilities, golf included must close. The decision is one that we regret, but also accept. While it is acknowledged that golf has demonstrated itself to be a safe sport during the pandemic, the wider public health guidance must be adhered to and we encourage all golf clubs and golfers to comply fully with the advice of the National Public Health Emergency Team and Government at this time.”
While the closure is frustrating for everyone, almost everyone involved in the sport had a good summer season after the courses reopened in June.
Initial estimates suggest that 10,000 new members joined clubs over the summer months and clubs were working hard to retain and integrate their new members.
The level of green fee golf also increased dramatically this summer as many younger people got to grips with the absence of team sports. Many golf shops and on-course PGA Pro’s had a strong third quarter as new golfers purchased clubs, balls and all the accessories needed to play.
Many golf shops and Pro’s click and collect and online options available for members and students so it’s expected that this will continue through November.
One of the small positives is that course staff will again have an opportunity to complete work that otherwise would not be done at this time of year.
The absence of golfers from the course for the six-week period will speed up the routine maintenance work for ground staff and it also provides an opportunity to get to work with any planned winter development work.
The same should apply for the month of November as greenkeepers can help their courses to recover from a busy summer.