By Brian Keogh
Golf Ireland CEO Mark Kennelly
Golf Ireland has defended its decision to limit the return to golf to “members only” as it was part of its submission to government seeking the resumption of golf in Level 5.
While Minister of State Jack Chambers said in the Dail last week that “the public health regulations do not draw a distinction between members and non-members in the case of golf,” Golf Ireland feels justified in denying clubs the chance to earn green fee income during the early stages of golf return.
In a statement, 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, like in 2020, 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.”
Not all golf clubs boast huge playing memberships or packed timesheets, however, and the likes of The European Club in Co Wicklow is now welcoming green fee paying golfers providing they adhere to the current government restrictions limiting travel to within a golfer’s county or within 20km of their home.
Owner Pat Ruddy said: “They [Golf Ireland'] have been encouraging people to buy club memberships and so gain playing rights. But the same people, they say, cannot play on a guest fee!”
The restriction to members only has also been greeted with dismay by Ballyliffin Golf Club in Co Donegal.
“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,” General Manager, John Farren said.
“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.”