What happens when the gates close?

Ireland is full of golf courses. Take a drive anywhere around the country and your eyes will inevitably be drawn away from the road as you pass different clubs. That’s what happened on a drive back from Glendalough recently but this time there was something different. As the trees parted and the course came into view it was clear that this was a rare sight. There were no people walking the fairways, not a flagpole to be seen, an empty car park and a vacated clubhouse.

The chance to have a look around an abandoned golf course doesn’t come up too often so, despite the rain that was falling, the empty car park now had one space taken up.

This is (or was) Djouce Golf Club. The nine-hole parkland course opened in 1990 and was a family-run venture sitting between Vartry Lake and Djouce Mountain in Wicklow. Last April the club shut for good with course manager Donal McGillycuddy telling the Wicklow People newspaper that the Covid-19 pandemic was the final nail in the coffin.

When we’re now all so accustomed to golf courses being perfectly presented with tightly-mown fairways and greens and nicely raked bunkers, it’s striking to see what happens when nature takes over. The two-foot high grass means there’s no distinction between fairway and rough, the bunkers are beginning to disappear and only the trees and the overgrown greens give any real indication of the shapes of the holes.

The stone on the first tee says it’s a 177-yard Par 3 but if you were to pull out your five-iron and hit a ball now you’d never see it again when it lands in the high grass. Back in the car park the clubhouse is a lot bigger than you might expect for a nine-hole course with one half devoted to the golf club while the other used to house the popular Grange Kitchen restaurant. Now the building lies empty with just a few tables and chairs visible through the grimy windows.

The clubhouse – who also used to house the Grange Kitchen restaurant – lies empty.

Similar fate

After the year that was 2020, this is the fate of a number of golf clubs around Ireland that shut their doors, never to reopen again.

During the first lockdown in April, when courses around the country were forced to temporarily close, both Castle Barna in Offaly and Water Rock in Cork didn’t reopen in May when restrictions were lifted while, most recently, Charlesland Golf Club in Greystones closed permanently on December 31st.

In the case of Castle Barna and Water Rock, both were privately-owned courses built on family farms with the land now going back to its original agricultural use. At the time the news came as a shock to members of both clubs when they were told by management that the course would not be re-opening but, with both very reliant on green fees and society income, it wasn’t viable to continue spending money on maintaining the course with no income coming in.

Ironically, when golf did return, clubs around the country were booming with an influx of new members as seemingly more people than ever before were taking to the fairways.

However, with a further lockdown following in October and November, all golf clubs around the country were closed for a total of 14 weeks in 2020 with some also more affected than others by local travel restrictions at different times of the year. At some courses, losing such a level of income was simply too much to take.

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