Golfers revel in lifted restrictions as sport tees off

Golf clubs resumed activity this week.  Photo: Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile

Golf clubs resumed activity this week. Photo: Eoin Noonan/Sportsfile

Galway sport is taking a tentative step towards reopening this week with golf and tennis clubs among the first in the Government's roadmap since enforced closure due to Covid-19.

However, it is also a case of wait and see for many clubs and organisations as they formulate new protocols to ensure their re-opening can be performed safely for all.

The key parameters in phase one of the Government roadmap are that people can engage in outdoor sporting and fitness activities, either individually or in very small groups (maximum four people ), where social distancing can be maintained and where there is no contact. However only people living within a 5km radius of their club can attend.

The Galway Athletics Board and Galway athletics clubs are "considering proposals carefully" as to whether they can recommence training within this phase or wait until restrictions are relaxed further.

The board's PRO Brian Bruton says it is communicating with its members directly.

"There is a substantial body of work to enable training plans and protocols to be put in place for a safe return to organised club training. " he says. "However, we now have a way back to training and that is very encouraging.

"As can be evidenced from the last two months, many people have enjoyed the freedom of running and keeping fit while doing so, and we in Galway Athletics continue to encourage all to keep healthy and keep training."

All national competitions scheduled until August 1 have been postponed. New measures for athletics cover all aspects, including safety officers, club access, booking and arrival, check-in protocols, clubhouse facilities, track and field, running/jumping/throwing, coaching, and getting home safety.

Hamish Adams, CEO of Athletics Ireland says it is a privilege athletics is one of the first sports returning to club activity.

"With this privilege comes a great responsibility to ensure all our clubs and members operate to the highest standards of compliance to prevent the further spread of Covid-19. This is the first small step on our journey to return to full activity, we continue to plan and prepare for competition and events from August onwards subject to government directives.”

Golfers throughout the west returned to the tee box, but not to play in competitions.

Galway Bay Golf Club swung into action early on Monday for the first time in seven weeks with all tee times busy.

David Wensley, the club's sales manager, says the first of the three-ball golfers teed off at 7am, with the last at 8pm.

The club has spent time ensuring its safety is up to scratch, with one-way systems in place in the car park. Tee times are spaced every 14 minutes using a count-down clock, in accordance with national guidelines, while all members are being asked to fill out a health questionnaire before being allowed on the course.

Hand sanitisers are also placed at stations every three holes and two compliance officers have been kept busy monitoring the golfers on the course to ensure they are keeping two metres apart.

Wensley says the course ran like clockwork on day one with no bunching and everyone adhering to the new rules.

"We are strict, but we have to be. However, all the golfers are happy to comply because they are glad to be back on the course. If everyone plays their part, the game can be played safely."

Oughterard Golf Club also welcomed new and old members, several who have joined in the last few weeks.

Golf professional Derek McNamara believes the club is benefiting as a result of golf being one of the first sports to open, with new players joining at this time.

"Interestingly, a lot of new players are younger, possibly because other sports have yet to return to action. People are keen to remain active and be involved in sport," he says.

All health and safety measures have been put in place, and McNamara says all golfers are showing respect for the new rules.

"Everybody has been keeping their distance on the course, it has all been positive, and extending tee times to 14 minutes, makes a big difference."

The club has also installed Putt Puddys at each hole. This new invention, which was only launched this month by an Irish company, allows the ball to be removed from the hole, using a putter and without touching the flagstick.

Richie Lee, chairperson of Oughterard Golf Club says golfers can count themselves fortunate to partake in a sport that is regarded as relatively safe to play in these social distancing times.

Sport by it nature can be a wonderfully therapeutic pastime, he says, but with the return to play comes responsibility.

"Over enthusiasm and carelessness will lead to one step forward and two step backwards in our journey back to normality. Patience, respect for ourselves and others, including those operating in frontline services fighting the battle against the virus should be our first consideration."

Galway Lawn Tennis Club also opened its courts for play for only non competitive tennis games which are restricted to singles, while badminton and squash is still disallowed.

Players must bring all their own equipment, including balls, and games must be finished five minutes early.

Manager Kathleen Glynn believes there is a nervousness about returning to play, but says the club will get busier with its young members when secondary school exams are completed, and also when the restriction on over 70s is lifted.

Horseriding centres have also been able to open this week, but one Galway centre has opted to close permanently. Cooper's Hill Equine, based in Castlegar, and owned by James Tonery has closed permanently after 10 years, with the stock sold.

Tonery says his business is based on tourism, mostly American, and he does not believe it will return in the next two years. In addition, he says, the social distancing would reduce the numbers using his arenas, making it unprofitable

Knockillaree Riding Centre in Oughterard has decided to defer its re-opening due to the 5km travel restriction. It plans to reopen when that is extended to 20km in the next phase on June 8.


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