By Brian Keogh
Photo by Tourism NI Shane Lowry wins The Open at Royal Portrush.
Royal Portrush may seek voluntary redundancies and Portmarnock is contemplating a €5,000 levy as Ireland's blue-chip links reel from an 80-90 per cent fall in green fee income due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
After hosting a wildly successful Open Championship just over a year ago, when Shane Lowry triumphed by six strokes in front of sellout crowds, Royal Portrush was expecting to rake in €2.33 million (£2.1 million) in pre-booked green fees income in 2020.
But in a letter to members, the club explained that it now expects to earn just €166,00 (£150,000) from green fees this year and is budgeting for a £1 million loss that will oblige them to make major cost savings.
"Council have decided, as a first step, to ascertain if any staff are interested in voluntary redundancy although the club would review applications based on our operating needs," the club wrote, explaining that cost-cutting measures will be put in place, including the introduction of a tendering system for suppliers.
Excerpt from a letter to members of Royal Portrush
Many of Ireland's best known, blue-chip links courses are expecting similar losses following the collapse of the overseas market.
Portmarnock Golf Club made €1.61 million in green fees in 2019 and expected to increase that figure this year.
However, the club has now contacted members and broached the possibility of imposing a €5,000-per-man levy over three years to help plug the gap.
Ballybunion Golf Club will likely suffer greater losses than most though it has no debt or major capital projects underway. In its detailed income and expenditure account for 2019, the great Co Kerry links revealed that its green fee income last year was a whopping €2,870,893, representing 71 per cent of its operating income.
The club expected €3.2 million in green fee income this year but estimates a 90 per cent fall to somewhere between €300,000-€400,000.
The club had an operating surplus of €1.61 million in 2019 but while losses are inevitable this year, the prospect of the tourism collapse lasting for three or four years is a worry even for the very well-heeled.
All are keeping their fingers crossed that bookings that have been pushed into 2021 will not be affected.
But that depends on the extent of the COVID-19 pandemic and the ability of the airlines to fly.
"If there is no season again next year, that's when it will get tricky," one club reported.