The golf industry has been handed a major boost as courses reopened across the country on Monday after an extended winter at the hands of Covid-19.
Fairways awaited members only and just those living within 5 kilometres of their clubs but even such restrictions couldn’t stop a wave of optimism as the sport resumed ahead of what we all hope is a prosperous summer.
It’s been a stressful time for clubs around Ireland with so much uncertainty in the air. Courses have taken an untold financial hit since the end of last season, threatening not only the livelihoods of industry workers but also many established institutions that golfers have long called home.
The limitations placed on golf by Government restrictions coupled with the GUI and ILGU protocols came in for heavy criticism from playing circles in recent days and weeks. However, discontent in the playing ranks has been in stark contrast to the unity experienced by those depending on the sport’s restart for much more important reasons than a simple hit.
“Overall, it’s been very positive,” says John McCormack, President of the Irish Golf & Club Managers Association and General Manager of Castle Golf Club in Dublin.
“We’ve been holding weekly Zoom calls with Golf Club Managers from all over the country and generally they’ve reacted very positively. The fact that golf is one of a few sports to come back is a huge positive.
“We’re very conscience that we’re the guinea pigs to prove to Government that things can happen safely. I’ve no doubt that golf clubs will comply with the regulations as they’re being asked to do and hopefully on the back of golf proving that we can keep people safe on golf courses, other sports can follow suit and give Government the confidence to allow other sports come in off the back of it.”
The phased lifting of restrictions by the game’s governing bodies coincides with the Government’s five-point plan and it significantly boosts the sport’s chances of a safe return. Clubs need this time to implement return to play strategies and new innovations ensuring course set-ups promote social distancing and pro shops are ready for the initial surge.
Through their global network, McCormack explains how the IGCMA has been able to learn from other nations who have managed to successfully reopen golf after a long absence and ultimately deal with the rush.
“We brought in managers from Sweden and Denmark into the Zoom calls,” says McCormack.
“Denmark in particular are three weeks ahead of Ireland in terms of reopening and we brought him into the call to share Denmark’s experience of reopening and that was really useful. They spoke about the demand of members, how timesheets filled quickly in some instances and we shared a lot of that information with the golf unions who utilised that information in drafting their protocols.”
Since restrictions began in March, McCormack has chaired Zoom meetings with his fellow club managers boasting an average attendance of 50 people on a call as clubs band together to educate and move forward through Covid-19.
“The fact we have a large group of professional managers in our association on a path of learning, constantly communicating and sharing ideas is reassuring,” said McCormack.
“Golfers should know that these meetings are happening in the background for their benefit. Over the past few weeks topics have changed – we’ve had those club managers from Scandinavia sharing their experience of golf reopening. We’ve had insurance experts advising clubs of what they can do during the current climate and we have a very good relationship with the golfing unions.
“GUI CEO Pat Finn was on the call in advance to tell us what to expect from the protocols issue on May 8th so communication has been good. We’re all learning from each other and ultimately it raises standards throughout the country and supports club members, and arguably these sessions have never been more important.”
How golf responds in the next couple of weeks to the privileged position it finds itself in could well be the difference between the survival, or not, of some of Ireland’s golf courses already well-behind the eight ball because of this unprecedented pandemic.
“I think financially for a lot of clubs – every club is down in income – even the clubs with pretty full memberships are going to suffer. They have no competition income, no bar income, no food income, no green fee income and that’s a big hit for any club, so it’s great to have the chance to go again,” McCormack added.
“Everybody has weighed in behind the protocols, they do see a sense of responsibility for the entire industry to behave responsibly and hopefully we can move through the phases then to the benefit of everybody.
“It will be up to the individual to follow the protocols, as it has been for many weeks now but people have behaved sensibly to this point. Not just in golf, but in life in the new normal.”