Ireland one of few countries to close courses

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After the final rounds were squeezed in on Wednesday night and the last putts dropped in the gathering darkness of an October evening, golf courses around the Republic of Ireland shut their doors without much certainty as to when they will reopen.

The Government’s Level 5 restrictions to reduce the spread of Covid-19 are due to be in place for six weeks which would mean, all going well, that golfers could return to the fairways on December 1st. However, the Government has also said that there will be a four-week review of the measures which may give golf clubs hopes of reopening earlier, particularly given the condemnation that the current decision has received.

The complete closure came as quite a surprise to the Irish golf community given that the sport has been operating perfectly smoothly for five months since courses initially reopened on May 18th and it has become widely accepted that a non-contact sport played in a wide open outdoor space is one of the safest things people can do recreationally during a pandemic.

So how does Ireland compare to other countries when it comes to this new policy of golf courses closing?

In the North courses are still open – further highlighting the different approaches taken by the two jurisdictions on the island – but there are whispers that they may soon change to move in line with the other 26 counties.

On the whole, around Europe and further afield, the closure of golf courses hasn’t come into effect in many countries given that it seen as a safe pursuit with plenty of physical and mental health benefits.

Closest to home the only other golf courses that are closing are those in Wales. The country is set to enter a “circuit-breaker” strict lockdown for two and a half weeks from Friday with their government stating specifically that “golf and tennis clubs will be required to close during the period of the lockdown”. As expected, the news of golf clubs closing received much the same reaction as it has done in Ireland over the last 24 hours.

Elsewhere, in the UK, courses remain open in England and Scotland. Golf clubs reopened their doors on May 13th in England after a seven-week closure and have operated since with much of the same protocols in place as there have been in Ireland such as no rakes in the bunkers, no touching flagsticks and limited dining in the clubhouse.

Recently a three-tier system was introduced in England with different areas placed at different levels based on the rates of Covid-19 infections in the locality. Liverpool was immediately placed at the highest level – Very High Risk (Tier 3) – with Lancashire following while the Greater Manchester area will move to the same level at midnight on Thursday. In accordance with updated England Golf guidance, golf can still operate in its current form even at the highest risk level with very similar protocols to what was in place in Ireland up to Level 4, with competitions continuing and online booking necessary while alcohol can only be served in the clubhouse with a substantial meal.

Scotland is currently in Phase 3 of its Covid-19 plan with some extra restrictions around social contacts and the hospitality sector introduced two weeks ago. Much like in England, golf is continuing with competitions being played while four people from four different households can play together. Clubs in certain areas where Covid-19 infection rates are higher can only offer takeaway services while everywhere else clubhouses can only serve alcohol outdoors.

Across Europe courses remain open in the likes of Spain, Portugal, Italy and France but the tourism market which drives so much of the golf revenue in countries particularly like Spain and Portugal has all but dried up and it is mainly locals and ex-pats who have the fairways to themselves. Resorts in areas such as the Algarve and the Costa del Sol – so popular with Irish golfers in particular – are nervously crossing their fingers in the hope that business may recover somewhat in 2021.

In many European countries measures are now being reimposed due to soaring rates of Covid-19 rates but golf courses have, so far, managed to escape closure despite the surge.

In Australia, the five million residents of the greater Melbourne area have faced one of the strictest lockdowns in the world with measures imposed on July 9th which, among other things, shut down golf courses and limited outdoor time for people to just one hour a day.

Only on Sunday, October 18th, after over 100 days of lockdown, were restrictions slightly eased to allow people spend more time outdoors while golf courses were finally allowed to reopen with groups limited to two people and no competition golf allowed. Their closure for over three months looks to be the longest time that golf clubs in any country in the world were forced to keep their doors shut during the pandemic. Elsewhere, in New South Wales, Queensland and around the country golf courses have remained open.

In the United States golf courses are open with similar restrictions in place to what we had become used to over here. Indeed, even during the initial worldwide lockdowns in April, golf courses remained open in some states including in Florida where president Donald Trump owns a number of resorts. In his initial stay-at-home order at the end of March, Republican governor Ron DeSantis did not close golf courses. Indeed, very shortly after initial restrictions began to ease in the US, Trump himself got the clubs back out of the closet and hit the fairways.

In the Covid-19 discussion there are plenty of conflicting arguments but, seemingly worldwide, there is little debate that golf is one of the safest pursuits for people during this pandemic – something which makes the closure of golf courses in Ireland all the more baffling.

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