Northern Ireland news

Golfing body questions why courses in north must remain shut

Golfers at Down Royal Park Golf Course earlier this year. File picture by Hugh Russell

A golfing body has questioned why courses have been shut during Northern Ireland's six-week lockdown while those in the Republic, England and Scotland remain open.

Golf courses shut on St Stephen's Day and will remain closed for six weeks. However, the restriction will be reviewed after four weeks.

It is the third time courses in the north have been shut since the beginning of the pandemic.

Courses were closed for almost two months between March and May. A second shutdown lasted between November 27 and December 11.

Golf courses in Republic, Scotland and England have being closed previously, but remain open in this lockdown.

Golf fans argue that the sport is safe during covid, with less than 100 players at any one time on course often up to 100 acres in size.

In the Republic, only golfers from two separate households are allowed to play as a group and clubhouses remain closed.

The Professional Golfers Association (PGA) wrote to First Minister Arlene Foster on December 21, asking her to reconsider the Executive's approach.

PGA chief executive Robert Maxfield highlighted the "undeniable health and mental wellbeing benefits that golf offers to a significant proportion of the country".

He said golf could be played safely during lockdown.

"It is worth noting that golf courses in England and Scotland have remained open even as those two countries moved once again into Tier 4 restrictions, confirming the ability of golf to operate safely during the pandemic," he wrote.

"The average golf course covers a 60-hectare space, which on average would see only 96 people on it at any one time, which makes it the perfect setting for people of all ages and abilities to get their daily exercise in an extremely safe environment."

He said more than three million people play the game in Britain "spanning all abilities, age groups, backgrounds, genders and faiths".

"Whilst we agree that certain measures will have to be adopted, such as closing clubhouses, these should not be seen as prohibitive to allowing play to continue.

"Golf clubs have already embraced a raft of changes with the vast majority offering online booking services, having pre-scheduled arrival times to eradicate contact with other people and rule changes which ensure players stay socially distanced."

Golf Ireland, which manages the sport on a 32-county basis, could not be reached for comment yesterday.

In a short statement on December 19, Golf Ireland said it "will continue its contacts with both the responsible department and Sport NI to ensure that golf can return at the earliest opportunity."

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