Brexit concerns for golf in Ireland

Boris Johnson (Photo: Getty Images)

A recent trip to Northern Ireland for three days golfing at the Newry, Mourne & Down Summer Trophy was a great way to round off the summer. A fine Ulster fry was devoured at Spa Golf Club, a bowl of hearty seafood chowder was slurped down at Ardglass and a delicious Irish Coffee was enjoyed after a jaw dropping day at Royal County Down. Mediocre golf was played in great company, all draped in some of the island’s most magnificent scenery. 

A superlatively laden opening paragraph you may think? Well, it is easy to take the above for granted. Driving back from the event, I slipped from one jurisdiction to the next with no fuss. No checks, no stops. The entire island of Ireland may not be continental Europe, but it is in Europe none the less, for now. 

Withdrawal agreements that can’t be agreed, backstops that stopped working before they got rolled out. The self-imposed deadline of Halloween set by the British Government to Brexit regardless of any deal that may be struck (if any!) looms. What ghastly reality awaits?  

I am old enough to remember trips to the Buttercrane Centre in Newry where my folks would stock up on festive goodies, slabs of stout and spirits every Christmas when the currency rates were favourable. I also remember the dire traffic approaching the border, and the customs officials sticking their nose in the car and worse still, the sight of soldiers with guns. 

The latter held back the north of the island for decades; why would a golf tourist, or any tourist want to experience that on holiday? It is not a place anybody in their right mind should want to return. 

So specifically, what is going to happen to the golf industry here after the 31st of October? 

I spoke with Gavin HuntGeneral Manager of Powerscourt Golf Club, and he said: “we deal with a number of UK tour operators, we have been engaging with them on pricing and, in general terms, the practical travel arrangements post Brexit. 

“We have broadened our target market for potential touring visitors, we have made ground in the Nordics and mainland Europe. 

“In terms of the golf course itself, again we deal with a small number of suppliers based in the UK that provide us with specialist products, while we have increased our stocks slightly ahead of Brexit, we do have contingencies in place in this regard.” 

Where Powerscourt is situated, just south of Dublin City, that may well insulate it from the full wrath of a crash out Brexit, but what about a club that is based near the border or in Northern Ireland itself? 

Earlier this year, the R&A chief executive, Martin Slumbers admitted that the uncertainty surrounding Brexit was a major cause of concern ahead of The Open. He went further, adding: “In hindsightwould I be wanting to do Portrush in the year that we would be potentially leaving the European Union without a deal? No.” 

The unrestricted flow of goods and services is vital not only to the economy of the south, but also to the north of the island. 

Conor McKenna, Head Professional at Concra Wood, a club situated close to the border, is fearful, stating that the entire situation is a “mess”and one of the concerns is extreme currency differentials between euro and sterling. The club is a meeting point and attracts custom from its immediate surroundings and further afield, it being a great addition to any northern golfing package. 

Conca Wood has a membership base coming from Northern Ireland to play. Southern members, particularly if travelling in and off the M1 road, cross the border twice as they take the N53 to Castleblaney. Suppliers to the club, food and beverage deliveries for the catering aspect of the club, they will be subject to delays and checks. Routine but important things severely interrupted. This clearly illustrates the predicament facing Concra. 

As of this morning, the “mess” may have gotten messier with the news that Boris Johnson will ask the Queen to suspend parliament in an act to thwart those hoping to prevent a no-deal Brexit.  

I write in hope that her Majesty clips Boris around the ear and issues the monarch’s summons to get parliament back in gear to mitigate the great damage that has already been done. The clock is ticking.. 

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