Friday, March 20, 2020

COVID-19 and Irish Golf

Galway Bay Golf Resort 14th green
The anxiety surrounding the Covid-19 virus has been growing stronger by the day and will continue to do so as the days become weeks and weeks become months. The Dubai Duty Free Irish Open is the first event now listed to be played on the European Tour, at the end of May, but no one is expecting the tournament to happen. We have a long way to go.
We all know what has been happening with pub closures, the cancellation of large events (sports, music, weddings etc.), the requirements for employees to work from home where at all possible... never mind the lay-offs. ‘Social distancing’ will undoubtedly become an official term in dictionaries around the world, people will get into the habit of washing their hands properly and families will discover new ways to entertain themselves thanks to the varying demands of self-isolation.  
At the same time life must go on and, for now, we are still able to enjoy the open spaces around us. Golf is a ‘good news’ story in that regard. Yes, clubhouse bars, restaurants and Pro shops – even the clubhouse itself – may be closing but plenty of courses remain open and payments can be made online or over the phone. In terms of social distancing and forming a group of no more than four people, golf is the perfect opportunity to get outdoors for some physical exercise and stimulate mental wellbeing with friends and/or family. The government has emphasised the importance of both of these.

Yesterday's joint statement from the GUI and ILGU included the following:
The GUI & ILGU recognise the significant impact that the current Coronavirus / COVID-19 crisis is having on golf clubs across Ireland. While areas within golf clubhouses may not be available due to the need for social distancing, the sport remains open and accessible.

Golf club members can still play and enjoy their golf while acting within the guidelines issued by the Health Service Executive in the Republic of Ireland and Public Health Agency in Northern Ireland. Visitors (e.g. societies, open days) either require some form of screening or should be discouraged for the time being."

The restrictions do not prevent casual rounds of golf taking place. Indeed, golf is a great sport for people generally to get out and about, exercise and enjoy fresh air. It is played in an outdoor setting where the risk of contracting Covid-19 is low.
Strandhill's 5th hole
Golf clubs are aware of the difficulties presented by this virus and are taking the necessary precautions. The HSE has not yet placed any specific restrictions on golf clubs (clubs in Spain and Germany are now closed, for example) and while this may yet come, for now you can take time out to play a few holes.
Clubs are adapting to the new climate by introducing a number of essential precautions as well as offers to keep golfers playing the game. Essential precautions include removing rakes from bunkers, taking away bins, benches and ball-washers, and requiring flags to be left in the hole and untouched (the bottom of the cup insert can be turned upside down so the ball can easily be retrieved and you can use a glove to do this). They are simple steps but all designed to stop the spread of the virus through unnecessary engagement and contact. This includes how you pay (online, phone, contactless).
It is no easy task to attract golfers as concern grows, but Galway Bay Golf Resort has introduced a heavily reduced green fee as well as strict clubhouse and golf course protocols… none of which is arduous.
During these very difficult times we feel it is important for the community to keep active and safe,” says Dave Wensley, Sales Manager at Galway Bay Golf Resort. “We have therefore reduced our green fee to €30 for 18 holes, seven days a week. This reduced rate applies because we can offer contactless payments in the club. Visitors can also call us to pre-pay and then head straight out at their allotted time without coming into the clubhouse.”
Galway Bay Golf Resort's 10th hole
The GUI/ILGU's statement indicates that large groups of visiting golfers should be discouraged, and while I agree with dissuading large groups from turning up my own feeling on the matter is that members and visitors are the same when it comes to playing golf and embracing the relevant protocols. As long as everyone follows them and signs in on arrival (for tracing purposes) then golf courses are still there to be enjoyed.
Whether clubs remain open just for members or for everyone, the ‘rules’ remain the same: use a hand sanitiser frequently (clubhouses - if open - are stocking them), change your shoes in the car park, wash your hands thoroughly, don’t shake hands, keep your distance especially on the tee, and avoid touching your playing partners’ clubs or ball. 
At Macreddin, golfers are limited to one person per buggy.
If, as assumed, far worse is to come then it will come as no surprise when golf courses close their doors. In the meantime, playing this game remains an outlet to get outside and enjoy limited and careful social interaction, mental relaxation and physical exercise.