At Royal Portrush Golf Club, the stands are gone. Last summer, the 18th hole was packed with people cheering Shane Lowry as he sank his final putt and became British Open champion; now the only figure to be seen is a solitary golfer in the distance.

“This year we were gearing up for, I don’t know if it was the busiest green fee summer in the club’s history but we were effectively fully booked,” says the club’s manager, John Lawler.

Golf clubs in Northern Ireland have been allowed to reopen for members only since May 20th; up to three people can play at any one time as long as social distancing and hygiene measures are followed.

Out on the course, it is clear everyone is glad to be back. It is a hot, sunny day; club captain Ian Kerr emphasises it is not just the good weather which has brought the club members out. “Okay, it’s great, but the only difference is you can play in shorts today. If it was raining and howling, people would still be out there.”

At Royal Portrush, more than 80 per cent of the visiting golfers come from overseas, mainly from the United States. Even when the course reopens to visitors – in the North, the official lockdown exit plan does not include dates, but in the Republic they can play from June 29th – it will take longer for them to return.

American tour operators have indicated that it will be next year before their trips resume “to any meaningful extent”, the North’s Minister for the Economy, Diane Dodds, said last week.

This has had a “significant impact” on bookings at Royal Portrush; the “vast majority” have been moved into 2021. “Some of our tour operators, they’re particularly hardy people, and they’ve said, ‘if we can get there, we’re coming’, and we’ve said, ‘if you can get here, we’ll welcome you’,” says Lawler.

Irish golfers

Instead he anticipates that, with people more likely to holiday closer to home, there could be an increase in Irish golfers. “I think people will start exploring the [Irish] courses.”



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