Golf club members in Ireland were allowed back to their clubs on April 26 following the latest easing in the lockdown, but members’ guests and visitors will have to wait a little longer before they can get back out on the golf courses.
Golf resumed in Northern Ireland earlier this month, but as the latest Irish Government’s easing of restrictions took effect, all 382 golf clubs affiliated to Golf Ireland have now welcomed members back to play. However, as it did in 2020, Golf Ireland is prioritising members in the first phase of reopening, which has led to strong criticism from clubs who have small memberships and receive the majority of their income from guest green fees.
Defending its decision to start off with a members-only rule, a spokesperson for Golf Ireland said: “Prioritising golf club members across the island of Ireland has always been part of the planning for the early stages of the resumption of golf, as it was in 2020.
”Golf Ireland is strongly of the view that the members who have loyally supported their clubs through this very difficult period should have priority access to golf courses in this initial period and the feedback from many clubs is that there is very high demand from their members for slots on time sheets.
”An initial ‘members only’ provision was part of Golf Ireland’s submission to government seeking the resumption of golf in Level 5 and it is part of the ‘Return to Golf Protocol’ which was approved recently by the Government’s Expert Group on Sport. This measure also facilitates clubs in managing capacity – particularly while the Government limit of no more than two households per group remains in place – and with contract tracing.
“However, Golf Ireland intends that this will be a temporary measure and it is being kept under review in both jurisdictions as further government restrictions around group sizes, hospitality and travel are lifted. We look forward to more clarity being provided by the Irish Government on these issues in the coming days. Golf Ireland is fully committed to golf clubs playing their part in the rebuilding of the tourism sector in the coming period.”
One critic of the members-only rule is John Farren, general manager of Ballyliffin Golf Club in Co Donegal. Speaking to GolfDigest.ie, he said: “Irish golf clubs have adhered to all government guidelines to date and have had these relayed to us from Golf Ireland on the clear understanding that they had negotiated the best possible conditions for reopening of golf on each occasion.
“There is widely held belief that golf, as one of the safest outdoor activities, has been unfairly restricted in each of the lockdowns over the past 13 months, but clubs and members have accepted the sacrifices being necessary for the greater societal good, based on Government and Health Authority recommendations. If these recommendations are being ignored or incorrectly communicated or interpreted by Golf Ireland, then you have to question what agenda Golf Ireland are operating to and have they been acting in the best interests of clubs.”