Golf

Irish golf courses endure longest closures in the world

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Golf courses in the Republic of Ireland have faced the longest closures in the world as a result of Covid-19 restrictions with golfers banned from playing for longer than across the UK, the rest of Europe, the United States and beyond.

Golf clubs around the country are currently going through a third period of closures since they were initially shut down on March 25th last year and, like most businesses, they are awaiting word from the Government as to when they can reopen.

With the current Level 5 measures in place until April 5th it is hoped, as was the case last year, that golf will be included in the first easing of lockdown. If that was to happen and the Government permitted courses to reopen from April 5th it would mean golf courses in the Republic will have been closed for a total of 189 days since last March – exactly 27 weeks.

In the North, courses are also currently off limits and have faced similar closures to those on the rest of the island but not for as long. The Northern Ireland Executive have not set out any dates for reopening in their Covid-19 exit plan but, with courses in England set to reopen on March 29th, there’s a possibility the same could apply in the North.

Portugal is one of the few continental European countries where courses are currently closed but they may reopen next week after a review of restrictions

If that was to be the case it would amount to a total of 161 days of closures while the figure for courses in England will be 160 when they reopen at the end of the month. In Wales a review of restrictions is set for Friday and if courses there were to get the green light to open the gates it would tally up to 144 days of closures.

Only Scotland is bucking the trend in the UK and Ireland with courses currently open for play, as they have been since May 29th last year. While courses across Ireland, England and Wales have faced three periods of closure since last March, Scottish courses remained open throughout October and November and are classed as part of the Scottish government’s permitted exercise activities “as a reasonable excuse to go out”.

Scottish golf courses – such as the Old Course at St Andrews pictured here – have been open since last May. Photo: Andy Buchanan/AFP via Getty Images

In the Republic of Ireland courses have been shut since December 31st after reopening for only a month following the 40-day closure from October 21st to December 1st and even though its hoped they will reopen on April 5th, members could face the same issues of being unable to travel to their home course because of the 5km or county restrictions which are likely to be in place.

For example, golfers living in Dublin who are members at a golf club in Kildare – with both counties facing local restrictions at different times last year – will, by April 5th, have been prevented from playing at their golf club for just over 35 of the previous 54 weeks since courses closed initially last March.

In December an exemption was granted by Sport Ireland to allow members cross county boundaries to play at their home clubs and it is expected that Golf Ireland will lobby for the same allowance if courses reopen in April, especially after Fine Gael Senator Seán Kyne last month called on the Government to consider such an exemption for golfers.

Remained open

Across Europe most courses, like those in Scotland, are currently open and have been closed for significantly less time than Irish courses over the last year. Like Ireland, most countries allowed golf courses to reopen during May of last year but, unlike in Ireland, most of those courses have remained open since.

Portugal is one of the few continental European countries where courses are currently closed but they may reopen next week after a review of restrictions. However, the golf tourism trade which contributes so much to the Portuguese economy is unlikely to recover for quite a while yet; likewise in Spain where courses are currently open in almost all regions but it is only expats and locals taking to the fairways.

Whereas courses in Ireland, England and Wales all closed at different times during October and November, they were the exception across Europe with France being one of the only countries on the continent to briefly shut courses at the end of November. In Italy golf has been permitted since the beginning of last summer and an exemption is in place for people to leave their regions to take part in sport with travel even permitted in and out of high-risk red zones for sporting purposes, including golf.

In South Africa golf was prohibited for quite a while initially from the end of March until the beginning of June but since then courses have remained open

Further afield, golf courses in the greater Melbourne area of Australia – which endured one of the strictest lockdowns in the world last summer – faced some of the longest closures spanning initially from March 28th to May 13th before closing again on August 2nd until October 18th but they have been open since, bar a five-day snap lockdown last month when a small Covid outbreak was detected at a Melbourne hotel.

Iberostar Real Club de Golf Novo Sancti Petri in Cadiz. Golf courses are currently open in Spain. Photo: Octavio Passos/Getty Images
Iberostar Real Club de Golf Novo Sancti Petri in Cadiz. Golf courses are currently open in Spain. Photo: Octavio Passos/Getty Images

In the United States the vast majority of courses have been open since last April or May with some states only shutting down very briefly while a 25 per cent attendance crowd was even allowed in to the Arnold Palmer Invitational at Bay Hill in Florida last weekend and similar numbers will be permitted for the Players Championship at TPC Sawgrass this week.

In South Africa golf was prohibited for quite a while initially from the end of March until the beginning of June but since then courses have remained open even when the government escalated restrictions to Level 3 at the end of December.

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