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Golfers hit the fairways as clubs re-open

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David O’Donovan at Co. Sligo Golf Club. Pic: Carl Brennan.

David O’Donovan at Co. Sligo Golf Club. Pic: Carl Brennan.

David O’Donovan at Co. Sligo Golf Club. Pic: Carl Brennan.

The fairways of Co Sligo Golf Club at Rosses Point were populated by eager golfers yesterday following a reopening of clubs around the country.

For the first time since restrictions were introduced, members were back out on the renowned links from just before 8am. Approximately 230 members dusted off the cobwebs on Monday, with both the championship links and the 9-hole Bomore course open for play.

The best illustration of the enthusiasm of members to get back on the course came when the timesheet opened online to book a slot ahead of Monday's resumption; it was full in just three minutes and seven seconds.

Though golf is back, it is back with some changes: there are 14-minute intervals between tee times, players play in three-balls and there is no social interaction before or after the round in the clubhouse.

Co Sligo's General Manager is David O'Donovan.

"The timesheet filled in three minutes and seven seconds. It was fairly quick," Mr O'Donovan told The Sligo Champion.

"We were lucky to a certain extent because with having Bomore there we were able to use Bomore as well, so people got the chance to get some golf today [Monday] so we have somewhere in the region of 150 on the championship course and about 80 on Bomore so about 230 people being accommodated today, which probably takes in an awful lot of members that are within the five kilometres."

The five kilometre restriction has been the subject of much debate in golfing circles. In line with current restrictions, only those within five kilometres of a golf course are allowed to play. Co Sligo, like other clubs around the country, has asked members to respect the guidelines.

Mr O'Donovan says: "We've asked our members to abide by the government and HSE guidelines, we've asked them to stay within the 5 kilometres."

The measures introduced to facilitate adequate social distancing and safety for players have helped make golf's return possible, with the Golfing Union of Ireland and the Irish Ladies Golf Union issuing details on the implementation of such guidelines in the lead up to Monday.

"The 14-minute interval has made a huge difference because you don't feel it's busy," Mr O'Donovan continued.

"When you look out, you wouldn't think there's anyone in the car park, it is kind of half full which is very good.

"We've asked no member to arrive more than 15 minutes before their tee time so what we've had is they'll arrive 10/15 minutes before, then they put on their shoes, get their stuff ready and by that stage it's nearly time to go to the tee.

"And because the other group is 14 minutes ahead of them, they're nearly on the second fairway before they tee off so I have to say it has worked out very well, the first group were around in 2 hours 50 minutes this morning. They teed off at 7.56am."

The return of golf is welcome, of course, but from a financial point of view, clubs such as Co Sligo will rue the absence of the overseas market, which is worth hundreds of thousands in revenue to Co Sligo each year.

However, there is an opportunity to attract visitors from the island of Ireland in greater numbers later in 2020.

"Logistically, it can be done" Mr O'Donovan explains with regard to visitors from Ireland later this year.

"The issue you're going to have is where the visitors stay. There will be no bars or restaurants open until possibly the 20th of July, maybe the 10th of August. The 10th of August is a long time away.

"But in saying that, I got a phone call this morning from four ladies from Dublin who are members of a club there, and they asked if they could book in for the 8th of August. I took the booking, what was in their heads was they were listening to RTE's Morning Ireland this morning [Monday], they published a piece from here this morning, and it put it in their heads, it put golf in their minds and they said they want to play.

"We're delighted to welcome any visitors but it's difficult at the moment because we're in such uncertain times, we don't know what we're going to have."

Nonetheless, the reopening of clubs around the country came as a welcome milestone for golfers of all abilities. If there is one benefit to the closure of courses some weeks ago, it is the fact that the absence of members and visitors alike allowed courses recover and blossom from a conditioning point of view.

Mr O'Donovan said: "The golf course is stunning out there. I've been out there for the last eight weeks helping the lads doing different jobs and tasks out there because we have a small team working and I got to see the intricacies and everything that goes with it. There's so many different jobs to getting a golf course ready to play."

"I had my team in here this morning [Monday] at 5am, they double cut greens in front of the players to try and get a bit of speed up, the fairways were cut, the tees were cut, tomorrow the Bomore greens, tees and fairways will be cut and we're also cutting rough and surrounds here so we've got everything ready and the feedback - one of the guys that played in the first three ball rang me and said 'it was stunning, we just love being back'.

"That's what we want, it's a members club, we rely heavily on our members and the one positive thing we've found is we've a lot more people applying and looking for membership.

"We've had ten new members last week and I've had other calls about membership so there is a demand, people are looking to play golf because it's one of the first back and the word is we're open for membership."

Sligo Champion