Take a trip to any of the best links courses around the Irish coastline between April and September and you’ll see the buses winding their way down tiny country roads and trying to find space in the car parks.
Each year the tourists come in their droves to experience true links golf that can only really be found in the UK and Ireland. For many it’s a once in a lifetime experience while others are seasoned veterans of the Irish golf trip.
With the typical rate for a round at some the best links courses in the country such as Waterville, Ballybunion, Tralee, Lahinch, Royal County Down or Portmarnock setting an overseas visitor back €250 or so, golf tourism is big business in Ireland.
Fáilte Ireland estimate that 200,000 tourists visit Ireland each year to play golf, contributing over €270 million to the economy annually. And when those tourists are spending €250 on a single round of golf they’re not exactly penny-pinching. Most will play at least three or four courses over the space of a few days while food, drink, accommodation costs and merchandise go on top of that.
But this year the roads, car parks, fairways, pro shops and clubhouses lie quiet. While most golf clubs around Ireland are currently enjoying a boom in membership numbers which is helping to ease the impact of being closed for two months, those that rely on the tourism market have seen the vast majority of bookings for this summer completely wiped out.
Most would be fully booked up from April to September, seven days a week, but now the fairways are only being walked by the small number of members the clubs have as well as some Irish visitors.
Ballybunion Golf Club on the north-west coast of Kerry has long been a particular favourite for visitors from the US and, between the Old Course and the Cashen Course, there would usually be 16,000 rounds a year played by overseas visitors.
While the course and the clubhouse would usually be full with visiting golfers, this year it’s the reservations team that have been busy rescheduling bookings for next year.
Like most of the courses in the same bracket, Ballybunion is offering specially reduced rates for Irish visitors this summer but, as general manager John Eggleston explains, this year’s revenue will fall well short of what was predicted. The club has a small local membership but the…