Lynch: Golf falls victim to two frustrating forces in Ireland: Weather and the government

Eamon Lynch
·4 min read

It’s been about six years since I played golf in Ireland, despite visiting the country often in that time. And although I’ve been holed up in a seaside cottage an hour north of Dublin for more than a month, I’m unlikely to tee it on this trip either. But more for reasons of legality than lethargy.

Two rounds were actually planned but fell victim to the two most frustrating forces in Ireland: the weather and the government.

Rain scuppered a long-overdue return to Royal County Down, while a game at County Louth (better known as Baltray) with former European Ryder Cup captain Paul McGinley was canceled when every golf course in the country was shuttered under a national lockdown to contain the spread of the COVID-19 virus.

What might have been an unspoken relief for Skipper McGinley, is a source of annoyance for many others.

The Irish Times is a sober newspaper and it’s ‘Letters to the Editor’ page a sounding board for serious people, not a platform for tin-foil hat types. Saturday’s edition was dominated by writers expressing disagreement with the decision to include golf among the activities being put on hold for six weeks—a timeframe that in effect kills the remainder of the season, since December golf in this climate is about as popular a pursuit as sobriety on St. Patrick’s Day.

The reasons voiced to the Irish Times were both passionate and personal.

A Kevin Clarke wrote that it’s possible for the government to make scientifically supported decisions on what sports pose a higher risk—those played indoors, in teams, with contact, for example.

Annie Murphy noted that her 79-year-old widowed father lives alone and relies on golf not just for exercise but for his mental health.

Maria O’Connor dryly observed that instead of playing golf in near-isolation on a wide-open property she will instead be forced to seek exercise in more crowded public parks.

Golf’s built-in social distancing was emphasized too by Pat Burke Walsh, writing from County Wexford: “When I play golf, I’m never close to anyone. They’re on the fairway, while I’m always in the rough. While they’re on the green, I’m in the sand. It’s so safe. Stuck at home, we’re all in the bunker.”

A Dubliner, Ronan McDermott, leavened the letters with this epistle: “The government, in deciding to close the golf courses, may have been unaware that I was in the form of my life. Or perhaps, more worryingly, it knew and just didn’t care.”

‘Rules for thee, but not for me!’

Golf has been to the fore in Ireland’s COVID debate since the summer, when a parliamentary golf society held an outing and group dinner just one day after the government tightened restrictions on gatherings. The resulting public backlash against this apparent ‘Rules for thee, but not for me!’ mentality saw two high-profile politicians hounded from their jobs, and might yet claim a Supreme Court justice.

But the eight golfers whose letters were published in the Irish Times represented much more than a snapshot of chagrin. They were an oddly touching reminder that, in most parts of the world— particularly the celtic corner of it—golf is a game for the masses and a force for good. Back home in the United States, our sport labors under the damnable perception that it’s the preserve of a moneyed and aloof elite, a trumped-up impression that further calcifies with every accounting of how much public money is spent on presidential outings—that being the only angle that seems to inspire letters to editors about golf.

These citizen golfers didn’t pen letters as an exercise in bellyaching. Nor are they blind to the need for sacrifices to safeguard public health amid a pandemic. Theirs were simply thoughtful attempts to explain why the game matters to them and their families, and how in these strange times golf is still more likely to aid a solution than to exacerbate the problem.

Their arguments haven’t yet won over the government, but at least they did make me want to go play. Shame the shutters are down and it’s time to go home.

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