• Alistair Tait

Irish eyes aren’t smiling

You have to feel for golfers in the Republic of Ireland. The news that fell at 4:45pm yesterday was the last thing they wanted to hear. As part of Ireland’s six-week lockdown, Sport Ireland has decreed golf clubs must close during this period.

That means the removal of a vital lifeline for many.

Philip Reid, the Irish Times’s distinguished golf writer, said the news took Irish golfers by complete surprise. He wrote:

“If we’re to be entirely, brutally honest, nobody truly saw a full closure of golf courses in the Republic of Ireland coming. … Maybe play being restricted to members who lived within the five kilometre travel limit, at worse. Not a complete lockout!”

I was all for golf courses being closed in the initial lockdown back in March. I’m not so sure now. In my experience, and that of most of those I play with, our sport has shown it can be done safely and responsibly with appropriate social distancing. I can’t put it any better than Reid, who wrote:

“As clubs had demonstrated in recent months, golf could be played with stringent measures in place: flagsticks left in the hole; players arriving in cars and going straight to the first tee and then back to the cars on completion of their rounds, with scores entered on digital scorecards; no handshakes, no fist-bumps, nothing.”

Spot on. I haven’t felt the least bit endangered since we were allowed back on the fairways. Just the opposite.

Unsurprisingly, social media was full of fury yesterday when the news hit. Many pointed out just how responsible golfers and golf clubs have been during this coronavirus nightmare.

As I wrote yesterday, I’d probably be a basket case if not for the chance to get out on the fairways right now. My worry is the removal of a lifeline our sport offers many people, particularly those who live alone. This tweet from Greystones Golf Club member @Jennife82206772 backed that thought up. She tweeted:

“Am broken hearted ... as a single person living alone, golf was my only contact with others... in the open air with social distance guaranteed ... thanks a lot guys.”

RTE journalist and friend Greg Allen put it best when he tweeted:

“Of all the sports I’ve tried to play (very averagely) over the years, there are few if any that are as physically & mentally health enhancing as golf. You walk five miles talking, laughing, unwinding with friends. The ‘whacking-a-ball’ bit is almost incidental.”

Six weeks without golf is long time, especially since it’s the second time this year. Give a thought for golf clubs that were starting to get back on track after the initial lockdown. How about club professionals who’ve already lost income as a result of the first closure? How many clubs and club professionals will go out of business as a result of this double whammy?

The news is all the harder for Irish golfers to take given clubs in Northern Ireland are still open.

I've been fortunate to play a lot of golf in Ireland. As I a Scot I'm supposed to be biased towards the Home of Golf. However, golf in Ireland is unbeatable. Not that the quality of the courses are better than my homeland; it's just impossible to beat the experience, the craic of playing golf in Ireland. Give me a post round drink in an Irish clubhouse any day of the week. I've never felt more welcome. That's part of the reason this news is so depressing.

Irish eyes certainly aren’t smiling today.

#JustSaying: “From the standpoint of pure enjoyment, Irish golf is hard to challenge.” Tom Doak

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