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Ulster golf chief hoping competitive action on the horizon as courses set to reopen

 

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Coming back: the groundsmen at Banbridge Golf Club make their preparations for a return to golf tomorrow

Coming back: the groundsmen at Banbridge Golf Club make their preparations for a return to golf tomorrow

Philip Magowan / PressEye

Coming back: the groundsmen at Banbridge Golf Club make their preparations for a return to golf tomorrow

Coming back: the groundsmen at Banbridge Golf Club make their preparations for a return to golf tomorrow

Philip Magowan / PressEye

Kevin Stevens

Kevin Stevens

/

Coming back: the groundsmen at Banbridge Golf Club make their preparations for a return to golf tomorrow

Golf in Northern Ireland has finally stepped into the light at the end of the Covid-19 tunnel, with clubs set to open tomorrow.

Initially it had been thought that clubs would be able to open today but the Department of Health amendments have to be processed and so legally the sport can only start tomorrow.

Kevin Stevens, the Executive Officer for the Golfing Union of Ireland's Ulster Branch, is naturally delighted that golfers can once again step on to the fairways, just 48 hours after those south of the border were able to start playing again.

Stevens is hoping that the return of social golf will then quickly lead to the competitive side of the game, while the GUI have pencilled in the Irish Close championship for October at Rosapenna.

"We were relieved that golf was in the Executive's first phase of the roadmap out of the lockdown and now we're delighted that we can get playing," said Stevens.

"We will start off with three-balls and social golf and it's not a bad thing that we are starting 24 hours later than we first thought because it gives clubs a little time to prepare.

"Looking ahead we are hoping that clubs will see some competitions in June with members and guests only and that would be with four-balls. Everything will be in step with the Executive and that's the way our plans are - everything has that caveat of how things progress with the local Executive.

"Our plan is with Executive and we do have the option of amending the steps we have in place if there is a chance of moving forward a little more quickly. The third step would mean the possibility of full competitions with non-members able to come along and pay a green fee to play. All this would happen, of course, at the moment without the bar or restaurant being open."

The Ulster Branch are still planning to run the annual Senior and Junior Cup competitions as well as the Jimmy Bruen and Pierce Purcell events in July. "The Jimmy Bruen and Pierce Purcell are normally foursomes but we have changed those to fourballs to ensure the social distancing regulations are adhered to," added Stevens.

The Golfing Union of Ireland released its protocol for a return to action in Northern Ireland at the weekend when it was stipulated that no club competitions take place and only members are allowed onto the course.

It was also strongly recommended that juniors should only be permitted to play if accompanied by an adult.

Meanwhile, the R&A yesterday launched a £7m funding package to help golf in Britain and Ireland deal with the impact of the novel coronavirus pandemic.

The R&A which governs the sport outside the US and Mexico and organises The Open, golf's oldest major, said the fund will be aimed at national associations and other affiliated bodies.

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Coming back: the groundsmen at Banbridge Golf Club make their preparations for a return to golf tomorrow

Coming back: the groundsmen at Banbridge Golf Club make their preparations for a return to golf tomorrow

Philip Magowan / PressEye

Coming back: the groundsmen at Banbridge Golf Club make their preparations for a return to golf tomorrow

 

Golf courses have been closed in Britain since March as the country was locked down to try and halt the spread of the virus.

A slight easing of the lockdown means clubs are now beginning to open their courses although players must adhere to strict social-distancing rules.

"The pandemic is having an unprecedented impact on golf and many clubs are facing dire financial situations through no fault of their own," Martin Slumbers, CEO of The R&A, said.

"Golf is in our DNA and we want to see the sport continue to thrive from grassroots right through to the top level on the professional tours. We have a responsibility to do what we can to help in such a crisis."

The R&A said it is working with national associations and other selected organisations.

"We know that many challenges lie ahead but club golf is the bedrock of our sport and hopefully this fund will help to begin the process of recovery," Slumbers said.

Belfast Telegraph


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