GOLFERS all around West Cork are preparing to dust off their clubs and practice their swings as golf clubs reopen on Monday, April 26th.
While there are strict guidelines in place once the courses reopen, golfers can’t wait to get back out on the greens and fairways again, and golf clubs can’t wait to welcome back their members once again.
Neil Deasy, for over a decade, is Course Superintendent at the renowned Old Head Golf Links in Kinsale. He’s responsible for course maintenance and everything that entails, including preparing a workforce of 20 people and the course’s general upkeep during busy golfing seasons.
Like all courses, the Old Head has been closed for huge parts of the past year, but the demands on maintaining greens, fairways and every other facet of the course have remained constant.
‘My primary role is to make sure the Old Head golf course is in optimal condition for members and guests,’ Deasy explains.
‘The biggest challenge we face are the winter storms and the effect they have on the course. That’s one of the reasons why we close the course for six months of the year.
‘We are open from the middle of April to the end of October. Salt spray from the ocean is an issue we face every year and combating what effect that has on the course.’
While very little golf has been played in the past 13 months, on the plus side additional time to work on course repairs has been welcome by course superintendents and greenkeepers. Not having the usual winter traffic has given golf courses an opportunity to breathe coming out of lockdown.
‘I cannot wait to see the golfers back,’ Deasy says.
‘You get a buzz from seeing our members and guests enjoying the course. You would miss getting the compliments and the criticisms too. You have to take the good with the bad in this job! There are few better places to work than the Old Head and we, the staff, cannot wait to welcome the club members and guests back.’
Sarah Claridge is another golf lover who has missed interacting with her Skibbereen and West Carbery Golf Club members over the past year.
A PGA professional golfer with a career that spanned quarter of a century, Level 5 restrictions prevented the PGA Specialist Coach from tutoring golfers of all ages at the Licknavar course in Skibbereen. Now, the easing of restrictions means Claridge can get back to doing what she loves best.
‘I will be absolutely thrilled to see golfers back on the courses next week,’ Claridge says.
‘While there are still some restrictions on adult coaching in place, I am encouraging people to book lessons as it is going to be extremely busy over the coming weeks.
‘I absolutely adore coaching golfers of all ages and abilities. One of the things I am looking forward to the most is taking people back out on the course and to coach them there. I think people learn a lot more out on the course than on practice fairways. Seeing a busy Skibbereen golf course once again will be fantastic.’
Claridge understands that regular golfers will be out of practice following such a lengthy and enforced layoff. She has some good advice for those returning to the fairways and greens over the coming weeks.
‘The first thing I would recommend to returning golfers is to go out in the garden and practice the movement of their golf swing,’ Claridge said.
‘Topping a few daisies as you practice will do no harm at all! Getting your muscles ready to complete your movements is the best thing to do at first. Don’t be too judgemental on yourself over the first two or three rounds of golf after coming back. Remember you are just easing back into things.
‘The biggest thing to concentrate on is enjoying your golf. Getting out in the fresh air and meeting up with friends is far more important, for your mental health, than anything else right now. You shouldn’t have too many hang-ups on your game for now as competitions are unlikely to start for some time anyway.’
Clonakilty Golf Club’s men’s captain Paul Foley is just one of thousands of amateur golfers thrilled at the prospect of teeing off following a lengthy Covid-induced layoff.
‘Having retired from a lot of the team sports I used to play, golf quickly became my number one sport,’ Foley explains.
‘Golfers like myself have lost a bit of their touch, feel and drive for the sport because of being curtailed by all the necessary restrictions. It has been a really tough time for anyone involved in sport.
‘I have come in as captain of Clonakilty Golf Club and have been working really hard with a dedicated group of people to have the course and everything else ready for when people return next week. For myself personally, I am looking forward to getting some exercise and meeting people back out on the course.’
Recent investment from Clonakilty Black Pudding’s MD Colette Twomey has allowed Clonakilty Golf Club increase their course from nine to 12 holes. That number is set to grow to 14 holes in the near future.
But for all the enhancements to an already beautiful course, Foley hopes club members everywhere benefit from the simple pleasure of social interactions, albeit under strict Covid guidelines, more than anything else.
‘The social interaction element of golf is hugely important,’ Foley says.
‘For anyone involved in sport, it is all about people’s mental well-being over the next couple of months. The interaction of meeting people in an outdoor setting is more important than anything else right now. We will all be following the HSE, government and Golf Ireland’s return to sport protocols but it will be a hugely positive step forward for people to return to the courses from next week onwards.’