OUTSPOKEN Donal Hughes is a well-known golf blogger.
THE disappointment and bewilderment with the Government’s decision to close all golf clubs in the country as part of Covid-19 ‘Level 5’ restrictions was captured recently by a member of Ballinrobe Golf Club in a social media video post.
In the clip Donal Hughes, who lives in the village of Cong, argued passionately that courses should be allowed to remain open with protective measures in place during the latest lockdown.
Hughes – who runs the popular Golf Central Daily website where the video was posted – claimed that the decision to close golf courses until early December was taken because of the ‘Golfgate’ scandal which erupted in the summer.
This was in reference to the members of the Oireachtas Golf Society who attended a dinner in Clifden during Level 3 restrictions, a decision that sparked a furious public backlash at the time. Dara Calleary TD, one of those who attended the event, was forced to resign as Minister of Agriculture.
Allowing courses to stay open, Donal Hughes argued, would give the perception that the game played by the elites of Irish society was being given ‘a pass’ yet again.
Speaking to The Mayo News last week, the Ballinrobe native reiterated his view that the decision to close golf courses for at least six weeks had ‘nothing to do with coronavirus’.
“[During Golfgate] they [the people who attended] had their golf - which was fine - but when they had their meal they took the public perception of golf back to where it used to be in the 70s and 80s, a game for elite snobs who could go and drink and make rules of their own, a game for elite politicians,” he claimed.
“By it all coming out, they destroyed any chance golf had of coming back successfully, it became a political issue. So of course, when they decided what sports would be coming back, the first thing the politicians thought of was ‘Golfgate’.
“No way was golf going to get an exception after what happened. It had nothing to do with what’s safe and what isn’t, it was to do with politics,” he argued.
Like many of those who play golf regularly, Hughes can find no obvious reason why an outdoor sport played alone, or in small groups, in hundreds of acres of course could pose a risk to public health.
Indeed, courses in Northern Ireland have remained open despite having a higher incidence of Covid-19 than the Republic, meaning you can play a few holes in Strabane but not in Lifford.
Donal Hughes, who also is the goalkeeping coach with the Mayo ladies Gaelic football team, believes that golf is central to the wellbeing of the older members of many clubs.
“If you go down to the golf course in Ballinrobe any day of the week, there’s a man in his 80s out by himself every single day,” he said.
“It’s not like a sport for him, it’s exercise. It’s his way of life and it’s his routine... That man worked all his life and now in his retirement he just goes out for exercise and somewhere to go for a walk. He mightn’t even meet someone out there, and if he does he’d wave to them across the fairway.
“It doesn’t make any sense to close golf, from a public health point of view,” he added.
“There is no risk, it’s the sport where people are out in the open air. It’s almost like fishing out in the Corrib where you’re out on your own in a boat.”
Hughes says he would happily accept if clubs were allowed to remain open with extra restrictions in place, similar to measures which were in place when clubs initially reopened after the first lockdown on May 18.
Back then, play was restricted to club members only, with no competitions taking place until June. Clubhouses also kept their doors shut for a number of weeks.
“I would have absolutely no problem in the world with them saying: ‘You can go to the golf club if it’s within your 5 kilometre limit and you play in ones and twos’,” he said.
“If there were reasonable restrictions that allowed people to go out and get their exercise that would be absolutely perfect. Everyone would be happy...But this blanket closure for six weeks is a crazy argument.
“Every sport should be able to have a bit of common sense and a bit of logic...you hear it on the news every day that people are stressed and these incidents are happening left, right and centre in the country. People need an outlet.”