It’s beginning to feel a lot like March again, only instead of warm spring weather and the prospect of long, bright days, we’re now facing into a long, dark winter with no golf on the horizon for at least six weeks.
As many of you would’ve seen, the decision we all feared was made today with golf courses instructed to close around the country in line with Ireland moving to Level 5 in the fight against Covid-19 from midnight, Wednesday.
To put it bluntly, it’s a balls, a call none of us wanted to hear and certainly a decision neither the GUI nor the ILGU wanted to be forced into making.
And make no mistake about it, the game’s governing bodies had their hand forced in this move. A decision was expected to be made on Tuesday but such was the intense negotiation and case made for golf to continue, talks spilled over into Wednesday where ultimately the sport was delivered this hammer blow.
And it is a blow. A massive one. People are angry, not least us here at IGM who earn our crust when golf is thriving in this country. We relished our rounds when golf was given the green light to resume back in May and heralded the safe environment in which we were presented to return. Three balls at 14 minute slots, straight from the car to the course and back again. No rakes, no touching of flag sticks. No risk. Or at least that’s how us golfers view our great game that naturally promotes social distancing and provides a safe haven from screens and social media hysteria rampant amid this pandemic.
However, that being said, anyone blaming the GUI or the ILGU for this news needs to ask themselves a very simple question: why would the game’s governing bodies for golf in Ireland want their courses closed?
The last lockdown was detrimental to many clubs and although a rise in membership numbers helped to negate some of the losses, it couldn’t make up for all of them, not by a long shot … and that was before this latest news plunged the industry into further peril.
It was the GUI and ILGU’s intention to avoid this scenario; it’s understood that they presented a strong case to Sport Ireland who in turn dealt with the Government in the hopes of keeping golf going throughout the six-week lockdown period. Sadly, those efforts failed.
It was during the first lockdown in March and April that we realised just how much the game meant to so many of us, a case of not knowing how much you’ll miss something until it’s gone. Now we face into another lockdown with that perspective already intact, and if anything it makes the prospect of the next six weeks even harder to stomach.
But what did we realistically expect from a Government response so rigid in its movement? Given the 5 kilometre restriction on non-essential journeys, golf always looked second best in this battle to remain open. For many rural courses, only a handful, if any players would qualify to make the journey within the rules and the operating costs of running a club with little footfall would hardly have been worthwhile.
Making an exception for golfers to break the 5-kilometre travel limit is a nice thought but completely bonkers when people are sacrificing family visits because of the same restriction. But that’s not the fault of the GUI or ILGU. Blame lies with the Government directive and if we’re going to be living with Covid for the foreseeable, then blanket 5k restrictions simply won’t do. One rule does not fit all and in many ways golf is an exception here, but that gives rise to those quick to bash our sport as privileged and elitist.
No doubt that as hard and all as the GUI and the ILGU fought to keep golf on the agenda for the next six weeks, they would’ve been all too aware that an us against them mentality between those who golf and those who don’t would’ve looked distasteful, at best.
In truth, the longer term ramifications such a position would have on the game’s reputation could prove to be more irreparable than a six-week closure ever could.
Of course, some will maintain that golf, for them, is essential, and it’s health benefits, both for mind and body are well known. They’ll ask why they’re allowed to walk into their local Lidl or Tesco brushing shoulders with strangers and not play golf in a pod of four with their friends in an open field.
But alas, here we are, whether we like it or not. All in this together. Again. Knee deep in cabbage. Ball buried in dirt.
If there’s one silver lining, at least this time we have golf to watch on TV, though for many, watching a November Masters and being unable to attempt to replicate the shots on show at the local club will be a form of torture in itself.
I’m sorry. I wish I had better news.