Golf in Northern Ireland will be able to hit the ground running once the coronavirus lockdown measures have eased, according to Kevin Stevens, the executive officer of the Ulster Branch of the Golfing Union of Ireland.
Stevens revealed that the Ulster Branch have conducted a survey of clubs, which will be part of a report to be presented to both the local assembly at Stormont as well as the government in the Republic.
There is concern within the sport about just how economically damaging Covid-19 will be on clubs, with many, for example, waiting to see if memberships will be renewed as the country deals with the fall-out of the recent measures taken by the government.
Stevens, though, believes golf has the capability of bouncing back very strongly, even if it is a staggering process of a return to normality.
"I don't believe it will be a case of going from no golf to the next day going back to the way things used to be. It could be that we start with only members in a limited way… it will be essential that the approach will have the support of government," said Stevens.
Stevens continued: “We’re dealing with an unknown, working in a vacuum which makes it very hard, but as a sport we intend to be ready, we want to be ahead of the game when the moment comes to be able to get back on the course.
“We’re working with the government on a get-back-to-golf plan. We’ll be emphasising how important the sport is, how golf is good when it comes to mental health.
“We’ve recently conducted a survey with the clubs and when we process the data and the information then we’ll produce a report which will give us a good perspective of where clubs are at. But, we know that only when clubs open up again will we know the full financial impact.”
As plans continue to be put in place for when the moment arrives for golf clubs to return to some sort of normality, Stevens insisted Northern Ireland would not act alone. Rather, there will be an island-wide return of golfers to their local courses.
“It would be a case of courses opening up in Northern Ireland if lockdown restrictions were eased but not in the south and vice-versa. We couldn’t have an exodus of golfers heading south or north to play,” said Stevens.
“The good thing from golf’s point of view is that you are able to adhere to social distancing quite easily but we just have to get over that first hurdle of the government’s current message of staying at home.”
Meanwhile, Stevens says he has been encouraged by the spike in young members taking up the sport on the back of The Open being held at Royal Portrush last summer, when Shane Lowry enjoyed his memorable success.
“There’s no doubt that having the biggest tournament in the world here encouraged more young people,” said Stevens.
“Having so many Irish Major champions inspires young people because they look at people like Rory McIlroy, Graeme McDowell and Darren Clarke and see what can be achieved.”