Two of Ireland’s leading links courses have hit out at Golf Ireland’s decision to limit the return to golf to “members only”.
Jack Chambers, the Republic of Ireland's Minister of State at the Department of Tourism, Culture, Arts, Gaeltacht, Sport and Media, said in a written response to a Dail question last week that “the public health regulations do not draw a distinction between members and non-members in the case of golf.”
That has led The European Club in Co Wicklow and Ballyliffin Golf Club in Co Donegal to question Golf Ireland’s members-only policy as clubs across the border opened their doors this week.
In a statement, Golf Ireland insisted it was “strongly of the view that the members who have loyally supported their clubs through this very difficult period should have priority access.”
But The European Club in Co Wicklow says is will ignore the members only recommendation in the Golf Ireland protocol and welcome green fee paying golfers providing they adhere to the Republic's current government restrictions limiting travel to within a golfer’s county or 20km of their home.
“They (Golf Ireland) have been encouraging people to buy club memberships and so gain playing rights,” said Pat Ruddy, owner of The European Club which will charge visitors just €90 in May and June rather than its usual €230 summer guest fee.
“But the same people, they say, cannot play on a guest fee!”
The restriction to members only has also been greeted with dismay in Ballyliffin whose General Manager, John Farren, insists Golf Ireland has “serious questions to answer.”
“Have Golf Ireland been acting in the best interests of clubs?” Mr Farren asked.
“Saying they were protecting members playing rights is a feeble attempt to cover up their misrepresentation of government regulations and trying to enforce unnecessary restrictions on clubs who, it seems now, had every legal right to accept visitors.
"They had no right to attempt to withhold this information from clubs who have the sole authority on decisions regarding access to their facilities within the law. It seems to have been an attempt to drive membership of clubs and the resultant affiliation fees to Golf Ireland."
Stormont's Department for Communities has been contacted for clarification on the restrictions relating to non-member access to golf clubs in Northern Ireland.