Report shows the extraordinary highs and lows of golf in Ireland today

Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 15, 2020 07:18

A report in The Times newspaper about the state of golf in Ireland amid Covid-19 has shown the extraordinary growth and decline that have been happening at the same time.

On the one hand the Golfing Union of Ireland is expected to report the first year-on-year increase in membership figures in more than 12 years. In 2007 Irish golf clubs collectively had more than 250,000 members; last year that figure had dropped to about 180,000.

It’s not known at the moment how large the increase will be, but some clubs have reported unprecedented growth since golf courses in Ireland were allowed to reopen in late spring.

For example, Portumna Golf Club offered a special introductory rate for short-term membership: Two months’ golf for €100. This attracted 220 players, of whom 160 have since committed to full membership until the end of next year.

Thurles Golf Club has seen approximately 300 new members this summer, and its membership has reached about 1,000 for the first time in more than a decade. “The time sheets have been packed every day, from 7am,” said Raymond Ryan, the club professional. “Even with half an hour of daylight left, people were on the time sheet.”

Mark Kennelly. Image from Facebook

“There has been an uplift in membership this summer,” said Mark Kennelly, chief executive of Golf Ireland. “How much of it will be retained is obviously an issue. We’re conscious that the last time we had a big economic recession there was a steep fall-off in membership.”

However, at exactly the same time as this surge, and caused by the same Covid-19 factors, some parts of the Irish industry have been decimated. Particularly, any club that relies on overseas visitors.

According to Kennelly, the loss of green fee revenue from overseas visitors is in the region of €20m. Clubhouse restaurants were also closed for a substantial period during the lockdown, and have not reopened at full capacity.

Blainroe Golf Club, which has seen 130 new members this summer, reckons it has lost almost €50,000 in revenue from green fees and society outings.

Meanwhile, a final change that the paper has noted has been a resurgence in the ‘dormant’ member – people who were members of golf clubs but rarely turned up to them.

Douglas Golf Club’s general manager John McHenry said: “When the lockdown was eased we got the bounce of good weather and people were saying, ‘God, I want to escape, I want to get out.’

“Before Covid some clubs would have been looking into the abyss and wondering what value they had. I think Covid has put a value on golf clubs again.”


Alistair Dunsmuir
By Alistair Dunsmuir September 15, 2020 07:18
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