Golf has been ruled out of bounds by government during the Level 5 coronavirus restrictions and the decision has prompted an angry response from frustrated golfers all over Ireland.
The game’s governing bodies here, the GUI and the ILGU, issued a joint statement at 4:45pm today informing clubs that they had failed to achieve an exemption for golf.
“Following intensive engagement over the past 48 hours, we have been informed this afternoon by Sport Ireland that, very regrettably golf clubs must close under the new level 5 restrictions,” the statement read.
“Essential course maintenance is permitted to continue under level 5. We have sought clarity on the issue as to whether ranges/practice facilities can remain open for exempted activities. We will update clubs on this as soon as possible.”
The news brought an end to days of speculation after news leaked on Friday night that government was seriously considering introducing stringent restrictions this week.
On Monday, Taoiseach Micheal Martin announced Level 5 restrictions across the State for six weeks from Wednesday night/ Thursday morning at midnight until December 1st in a bid to curtail the spread of Covid-19.
Golfers in the Republic had hoped that they would be allowed to play on like their counterparts in Northern Ireland by adhering to public health guidelines.
But those hopes were smashed today, provoking the ire of many. Former European Tour professional Peter Lawrie believes the measures are a blow to many older people who use golf as a much needed social and mental health boost.
“I understand and respect the social element here, where we all have to pull together to stop the spread of the virus,” said Lawrie, who now runs Spawell Golf Academy in Templeogue, a 42-bay floodlit driving range.
“But there are so many people that use the driving range and golf courses as a form of exercise and as a social outlet. The majority of older people use it as a social outlet.
“I have so many people who come in to hit balls as part of their daily routine because doctors and specialists have told them it is a great form of exercise. The five-minute chat they have might be the only five-minute chat they have in the day.
“That’s who I feel sorry for. I could stay open tomorrow but would that be the right thing to do? It’s probably against rules and regulations so I am going to have to close.
“I had to ring the police station wondering what to do because I could get nothing from Sport Ireland or Golf Ireland. And they said, we would be under instructions to close you down, because you are non-essential.
“It’s not a business thing for me right now. It’s about the social aspect and mental health. It’s not about €7.50 for a basket of balls. It is about giving people exercise, routine and some form of escapism.”
Lawrie’s words were echoed by Conor Russell, the Director of Golf at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links in Dublin.
“It’s very disappointing,” he said. “You can go for a walk in St Anne’s Park and you can’t play golf on a course where there are only six people on a hole at any one time on a course that’s over 100 acres.
“It’s the ideal place to socialise and get a bit of headspace and mental health is something essential for us all. I find it hard to understand the reasoning behind the decision, especially when it comes to a game where 100 percent of golf clubs have been extremely vigilant when it comes to having the correct protocols in place for COVID-19. We have all encouraged a very safe environment for golfers. We are bitterly disappointed.”
Michael Dolan, proprietor of Mount Temple Golf Club in Co Westmeath and Chairman of the Golf In Ireland’s Hidden Heartlands, wrote in vain to Minister for Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media Catherine Martin.
“As you are aware, the traceability in the golf course industry has been 100 percent, by using the BRS online booking system along with washing hands, use of hand sanitiser and social distancing and non use of the clubhouse,” Mr Dolan wrote.
“The bad advertising which the golf course industry has been receiving due to political golf outings i.e. 'Golf gate' with Mr. Donie Cassidy and his associates, and the majority of these people who broke covid regulations and did not have to suffer for same, leaving it wide open for the rest of the country to adopt the same procedures and allowing Covid-19 to spread like wildfire.
“We ask you, in your position of Minister for Sport, to leave the golf course industry functioning with all its procedures in place.”