The Government’s latest announcement on Covid-19 restrictions outlined that a return to action for the thousands of golfers in Ireland will not happen until the end of this month.
April 26 has been confirmed as the date when the fairways will reopen, with courses closed since the Government’s decision to move to Level 5 restrictions in January.
It is understood that strict guidelines will likely be in place when the sport does return, with bookings limited to fully paid up members of each club who must be resident within their own county.
One of the courses in Clare that are ready for that April 26 date is East Clare Golf, with club chairman Pat McNamara outlining that works have been underway to ensure everything is in place for when members can be welcomed back once more.
“There was some major work done on our greens and the lockdown has given them a chance to be at their best. We have a group of volunteers, who we affectionately call ‘The Specials’, who have been able to continue working away on the course and they have it in great condition. There were works on the fairways and the approaches to the greens so we are all set to roll now. The members who come back will see a bit of a difference in the layout to the course, because our aim was to make it as playable and enjoyable as possible” he said.
Like most clubs around the country, East Clare saw an increase in members following the initial lockdown in 2020 with golf being one of the sports at the time which were permitted. There are now close to 400 members at the club, and McNamara said there is a great sense of community across the membership.
“Everyone is in it together and everyone gets on. One thing that people are saying they really miss is that bit of banter and fun they have out on the course. It is something that our senior members are really missing in particular because a lot of their time revolves around the club whether that it volunteering in the various roles or playing the course. Our oldest member at the moment is over 90 years of age, and we have others who are in their late eighties but still swing a golf club as good as anyone. For them, it has been a huge drawback because they are the generation who would follow guidelines to the letter of the law. It would be great for them to be able to get out and enjoy the fresh air and scenery at the golf club” he noted.
McNamara also stated that when courses were open last year, every measure was taken to ensure that it was as safe an environment as possible.
“When we opened up after the initial lockdown, every member was able to get on the timesheet through the online booking. It meant that we could see exactly who was going out on the course and the track and trace process was excellent. We have decided as a club that regardless of the guidelines that come out, for the first few weeks we will be opening to members only to make sure that they get the benefit from it. It is our way of thanking our members for their support of the club throughout the lockdown” he said.
One of the major success stories of the club over the last few years was club members Rachel Whelan and Marie Donnellan making the Grand Final of the Coronation Foursomes which saw them afforded the opportunity to play in one of the most iconic courses in the world.
“Marie and I started playing in 2017 when we took up the Get into Golf programme at East Clare.
They offered the programme which was eight weeks of lessons on the practice range and then another few weeks out on the course with members. There was a follow on programme with scrambles and 9 hole competitions so the aim was to give you that taste of golf to see what it was about. There was a lot of support and encouragement from the existing club members so it was a nice way to break into the club. I always found with golf that it had a reputation of being something of a clique sport so you needed a way of getting into to it if you didn’t know anyone that was in” Rachel explained.
Prior to taking up the programme, the Sixmilebridge woman outlined that she had no background in golf but was glad of the opportunities it provided.
“I had been to the driving range a few times and it was always something that I thought I would enjoy. After the Get into Golf programme, we took up the Stay in Golf course the following year and became full members. I had a background in camogie so I wanted to be competitive and that allowed me to take part in the competitions. We entered the Coronation foursomes and came through both the regional and national qualifiers. That meant that we got an all expenses paid trip to St Andrew’s for the Grand Final where we represented Ireland. We got to play on the Eden Course against 15 other pairs from across England, Wales and Scotland. It was fairytale stuff really because the competition has over 25,000 golfers that take part in it from over 1000 clubs. It is the largest women’s event in Great Britain and Ireland” she outlined.
With the courses closed since last Autumn, Rachel admitted the absence from the course has given a renewed appreciation for the benefits the game brings.
“I missed it a lot more than I thought I would. When it came back in May, it made you realise how caught up we are with our phones and social media. It gave that release of having the phone on silent in the bag to give you that break for a few hours. There was no news, no updates and no negativity for a few hours, and it wasn’t until I got back playing last year that I realised how much of a saviour it was. When you are out there, you are in the open air and able to enjoy it with no distractions. We had a joke last year that the 2 metre social distancing was a minor detail because we would be on opposite sides of the fairway all through the round anyway. It is a major part of people’s lives and their whole week is built around whatever day they are getting out for a game” she said.