SPECTACULAR SETTING A general view of Carne Golf Links in Belmullet.
Erris Tourism chief Gerry Maguire counts cost of course closure
IRELAND’S golf clubs have endured the longest closure of any where in the world.
When the greens and fairways finally re-open on April 26 next, courses will have been shut for 210 days – 30 weeks.
Being unable to engage in an outdoor socially distanced pastime, while the masses flood in and out of supermarkets, has left many golfers understandably baffled and incensed.
While the closures have robbed some people of their only outlet, it has also left hundreds of clubs across the country under severe financial pressure.
For the likes of the prestigious Carne Golf Links in Belmullet, the situation is dire.
Heavily dependent on foreign holidaymakers, this splendid course overlooking the Atlantic is struggling to make ends meet.
Gerry Maguire, chairman of Erris Tourism and Carne Golf Links, describes the course as ‘the flagship of Erris tourism’.
“It’s a unique links, it’s really a very precious land out there that God created, there’s not too many golf courses like it,” Gerry told The Mayo News. “It’s spectacular and rugged, in the middle of towering sand dunes that you wouldn’t see anywhere else in the world. You really have to come and experience it and people are really beginning to realise that it’s there.”
Unlike most clubs which depend heavily on local membership, 95 percent of Carne’s revenue comes from visitors’ green fees. This creates a considerable spin-off for the local area during the tourist season.
“That transfers into about 5,000 bed nights in the Erris area locally and about 9,000 in the Mayo region,” explained Gerry Maguire.
“We’re worth about €8.9 million to the Mayo economy in direct and indirect spending, so we’re a really big player. Sixty-five percent of the [green fees] is overseas, so that’s a huge hit for us since last March as you can imagine.”
The loss of international tourism has amounted to a colossal €400,000 loss in green fees for Carne Golf Links, which is ranked among the top twelve courses in Ireland.
Last year the course had to rely almost entirely on domestic visitors, amounting to 8,000 rounds of golf, an increase from 3,500 rounds in 2013.
While the government’s ‘Temporary Wage Subsidy Scheme’ has helped keep their greenkeepers employed as essential workers, the club still has outgoings of €10,000 a month.
Typically employing 23 people at the height of the season, Gerry Maguire says that the management have had to work extremely hard to keep revenue coming in.
The Castleknock native says that not being eligible for the Covid Recovery Support Scheme has been their biggest financial handicap.
“We don’t meet the criteria for that in that we haven’t lost 75 percent of our revenue to qualify…our revenue is still down about 68 percent,” he explains.
“We feel a bit hurt that we’re not getting anything out of that. Even if they tiered that back from 75 percent, to get nothing at 68 percent, particularly at this time of year when it’s costing us €10,000 a month just to stay alive.
“We haven’t seen a sinner since September 30, with €10,000 going out. That’s serious because we’re a big employer here.”
While their online shop provides a modest stream of income, the club receive daily enquiries from golf fanatics in America.
With the US vaccine programme light years ahead of most European countries, Gerry Maguire is unable to give potential clients a definite answer about when international tourism can return.
“It’s pure hope and speculation. You can’t run any business like that,” he admitted.
Even when golf courses are allowed open up to local players on April 26, the Erris Tourism chief says this will be ‘absolutely no help’ to Carne Golf Links.
“The inter-county travel would have to open up for Carne Golf Links to make some headway even with the staycation people. But overseas business we have would be 65 percent, we really need to get the visitors back into the country as well as our own [visitors]. Ten or 20 kilometres in our situation is absolutely useless.
“It’s a serious cause for concern [that we might not get visitors until mid-summer]. In our case we have 23 very loyal people who are ringing up checking and they’re upset. They’re obviously relying on their jobs and we can’t give them any guarantee when we’ll be opening.
“Then there’s the worry, which will always be there, of if will we even open up at all,” he added.
“It’s very hard to manage a business when you don’t know what’s coming in or when it’s coming in. The hospitality sector has been left behind seriously in my opinion.”