All golf clubs in Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland shutdown on Tuesday following separate announcements by the UK and Irish governments further tightening social distancing measures and businesses that are allowed to operate in the coronavirus crisis.
The shutdown has initially been set to end on April 19, but in the event of the virus still being prevalent in the region this date may well be extended.
With golf having previously been given the go-ahead to continue, providing social distancing measures were applied, the game’s governing body In Ireland acted quickly to shut the sport down, with the Golfing Union of Ireland initially demanding all clubs in Northern Ireland to close with immediate effect, before extending the closures to courses in the Republic of Ireland following advice from the Irish government.
The statement from the GUI/ILGU explained: “While golf is an outdoor sport that allows players to exercise in the fresh air, the message is clear: People must stay at home to help to contain the spread of COVID-19. The unions recognise the need clubs may have for business support at this time. We will monitor options available and engage with the relevant sporting bodies in due course to make representations for our member clubs.
“We know that these decisions are difficult ones to make, but right now, it is our shared responsibility to prioritise the health of our local communities by working together to follow the respective Government guidelines. In doing so, this will ensure that we get the opportunity to play the game that we all love as soon as it is safe to do so.”
Clubs are still advised to maintain their facilities.
“For security and essential maintenance purposes, greenkeeping staff can still attend work. All work must be carried out in strict accordance with government guidelines on physical distancing. Clubs should divide course staff into two teams where possible and if one becomes unavailable, the other team will still be okay to work. We will continue to liaise with the appropriate authorities, and will ensure that our clubs are kept informed as to recommended best practice at all times.”
The timing of the shutdown could not have come at a worse time for clubs in both Northern Ireland and the Republic of Ireland, with the domestic and tourist golf season about to get into top gear after a difficult winter, and a general long-term decline in participation across the region. Stevens said that the enforced temporary closure could send many clubs in Northern Ireland into permanent closure, as many clubs were on the brink even before the coronavirus outbreak.
The Golfing Union of Ireland Ulster Branch had expected to be told the sport could could continue with additional social distancing measures.
“Up until last night we were preparing a press release continuing with playing the game but things changed so rapidly,” said Ulster Branch Executive Officer Kevin Stevens.
Kevin Stevens, executive officer of the GUI’s Ulster Branch, said: “Our clubs financially are suffering. There has been a reduction in the numbers of members over the past number of years. Discussion around closure was always on the horizon and this will only bring that to the fore again.”
He added: “Given golf’s contribution to the Northern Ireland economy in recent years, most notably last year’s Open Championship at Royal Portrush, which provided a £100m boost to the Northern Ireland economy, Stevens believes it will be incumbent on the government to look at supporting the sport when the current crisis is over.”
At this time, with so much upheaval going on, that lack of revenue will be felt very hard.
Therefore, we will look to government in the future to support our clubs in a similar way that the sport of golf provided so much income to the economy through things like the Open Championship.
“Now clearly isn’t the time to look at this, but we will be talking to government about supporting our clubs into the future to ensure that they are sustained and able to provide this great sport in our country. We know that some of the measures they have announced for business do apply to sporting clubs. The business rates holiday will apply and we’re hoping other measures the government bring in will also apply to sporting clubs.”