Brexit casting a shadow over Irish golf in 2019

On New Year’s Day, we reviewed the 2018 experiences of eight golf clubs around Ireland. Now Kevin Markham looks to the future – and how eight clubs see 2019 unfolding for them

LAHINCH, CO CLARE

World famous for the most obvious reasons, and home to the Dubai Duty Free Irish Open in 2019, Lahinch needs no introduction. It is links royalty.

1. What are your key goals in 2019?

The club’s aim is to create a festival atmosphere that delivers a memorable and successful DDF Irish Open. This will showcase to the world everything that Clare has to offer in terms of scenery, hospitality, food, music etc.

2. What is happening on the course?

A back tee has been constructed on the short par four 13th hole to give options during tournament play. The long range practice area now includes a new practice tee box and five target greens. An indoor practice academy will be completed in May.

3. What are the biggest challenges facing the club ahead of hosting the DDF Irish Open?

“Hosting such a prestigious tournament brings with it many logistical challenges,” says Paddy Keane, Lahinch’s General Manager. “We are extremely fortunate that with the support received from Clare County Council, An Garda Siochana and the local community these challenges have not been insurmountable.”

4. What has been the biggest challenge to date and how did you tackle it?

“Identifying suitable car park facilities and developing a traffic management plan have been our greatest challenge so far but with the support of the Council and the Gardaí we are comfortable with the plans in place.”

5. How are the club’s members contributing to the preparation of the event?

Over 600 volunteers will be required. From February onwards member participation will be crucial to the success of the tournament.

6. What sort of interest are you getting from international media?

“Following the announcement in 2018, the support we have got from all media outlets has been unprecedented,” says Keane. “Especially from North America.”

7. As host to the DDF Irish Open, what do you see as the long-term benefits for the club?

“It will enhance our reputation and prestige as one of the world’s great links courses.”

8. Want to play Lahinch?

Restrictions will be in place ahead of the Irish Open, so wait until 2020!

LOUGH ERNE, CO FERMANAGH

The five star Lough Erne resort, set amidst the Fermanagh Lakelands, has been improving both the magnificent Faldo-designed parkland and Castle Hume courses recently.

1. What are your key goals in 2019?

A revised programme of events with monthly Open Days will take place while a new online booking engine will offer flexible pricing for both courses. A Golf Academy Development Plan is also underway.

2. What is happening on the course?

Continued investment will ensure the highest level of on-course conditions. Additional investment will see the upgrading of the Golf Academy facilities, including the introduction of Trackman Technology.

3. How is your membership drive progressing?

“The focus is on driving membership of Castle Hume Golf Club,” says David Allen, the club’s PGA Pro. “Beginner Ladies, Gents and Junior Coaching Programmes are being launched in 2019 to provide a stepping stone into membership.” Elsewhere, exclusive membership opportunities may become available for the Faldo course.

4. Any Get into Golf Programmes planned?

Both Ladies and Gents Get into Golf programmes are planned for 2019, with PGA Professionals David Allen and Shaun Donnelly. Junior Coaching Camps are also in the schedule for Easter and Summer.

5. What will you be doing differently in 2019?

The resort’s new online booking engine will offer flexible pricing for both courses, creating better opportunities for visiting golfers. The courses will also be marketed through a range of third-party online Golf Booking Platforms. The resort’s social nMedia presence will be increased with higher spend on platforms such as YouTube.

6. What do you consider to be the greatest challenges facing Lough Erne?

“Uncertainty surrounding Brexit, given the resort’s proximity to the border,” says Allen. “We also have to overcome consumers’ perception of distance: many do not realise we are located only two hours from Belfast and 2 and a half hours from Dublin City.”

7. What open events are there?

There will be a full programme of Open events on the last Sunday of each month. An example is the Winter Series (sponsored by Titleist and Footjoy) which runs until March.

8. Green Fee and Society rates?

Faldo Course Green Fees £39-£69 (€43-€77) (Nov-Apr), £59-£89 (€66-€99)(May-Sept) Societies from £75 (€84) (including food). Society Stay and Play from £160pp (€179)sharing.

CO SLIGO

As Co. Sligo celebrates 125 years in 2019, so this marvellous, chameleon-like links continues its evolution.

1. What are your key goals in 2019?

“The key goals are membership retention and being able to offer members more than just 18 holes of championship golf,” says David O’Donovan, the club’s General Manager.

“There will be more emphasis on the 9-hole Bomore course and the club’s impressive practice facilities.”

2. What is happening on the course?

Following recent investments and design work by Pat Ruddy, the finishing touches are being made to the 14th hole. The stream across the fairway has been extended and a new fairway bunker added.

3. How is your membership drive progressing?

A 12-month membership from the date a new member joins is now being offered, instead of the usual Jan-Dec option.

4. Any Get into Golf programmes planned?

There will be Get into Golf and Stay in Golf programmes. The club is trying to get Stay in Golf participants to join either the Bomore or Championship course after their initial two years.

5. What will you be doing differently in 2019?

Around the time of the 148th Open Championship the club has tailored a ‘Lunch and Whiskey’ tasting package which is already proving popular.

6. What do you consider to be the greatest challenges facing Co. Sligo GC?

Membership retention and recruitment.

7. When is Open Week? What events are planned around the 125th anniversary?

Open Week: 2-11 August. Open Festival over Easter 2019.

8. Green Fee and Society rates?

GUI/ILGU Rates from €60.

WATER ROCK, CO CORK

A popular, vibrant and fun family-run golf course with one of the best par threes in the country.

1. What are your key goals in 2019?

Water Rock is mainly a society, classic and green fee course, with limited membership. Since 2017, the course has strategically developed both these areas to ensure enjoyment for all. This will continue in 2019.

2. What is happening on the course?

Over the past four years the course has successfully implemented a maintenance programme that has seen an 80 per cent reduction in fertiliser and pesticide usage, in favour of organic treatments. This has increased wildlife significantly on the course and the programme will continue into the future.

3. How is your membership drive progressing?

“We have successfully developed both our 5-day and 7-day half price green fee membership,” says Donal O’Herlihy.

“The memberships have proven very attractive and will continue in 2019.”

4. What will you be doing differently in 2019?

“In 2018, we introduced packages for Societies and Classics that offer reductions in standard rates. We will be reviewing this in 2019 with a view to improving.”

5. What do you consider to be the greatest challenges facing Water Rock in the year ahead?

“As a privately owned course we are assessed under the Hospitality Section,” says O’Herlihy. “The VAT increase from 9% to 13.5% will be a significant challenge. Brexit will also be a challenge.”

6. What Open events are there?

Open Days are being considered.

7. Green Fee and Society rates?

Green Fees €18-€31. Society €16-€31 (€36-€50 with main meal).

NEWCASTLE WEST, CO LIMERICK

Newcastle West Golf Club was voted ‘Best Hidden Gem in Munster 2019’ by the Golfer’s Guide to Ireland.

1. What are your key goals in 2019?

The club will continue to develop and upgrade various areas of the course and provide best-in-class value for members. Building membership is also key.

2. What is happening on the course?

Three new sets of tee boxes will be built by Atlantic Golf Construction. New machinery will also be purchased and a continuous sanding programme is underway. “A course improvement plan has just been completed by Ken Kearney Golf Design,” says John Devine, the club’s General Manager. “The next steps are to cost various projects and formalise/implement the plan.”

3. How is your membership drive progressing?

Sixty new members joined in 2018, through various offers, packages and group discounts. Membership age profile is a concern: Senior numbers are growing but there are not enough 25-40 members.

4. Any Get into Golf Programmes planned?

“Get into Golf has been running continuously since 2014,” says Devine, “with very successful growth in the Ladies Club.” This will continue in 2019, for Ladies and Men. The club’s PGA Professional is also developing a school’s introduction-to-golf programme.

5. What will you be doing differently in 2019?

The club has developed a twinning arrangement with five other clubs to incentivise existing and potential members. There will also be Golf & Grub Early Bird and Twilight offers, Stay & Play packages and new 9-hole Open competitions.

6. What do you consider to be the greatest challenges facing Newcastle West GC in the year ahead?

Funding off-course projects and trying to recover the members who lapsed since 2008. Attractive packages will be available to lapsed members over two years.

7. When is Open Week?

Open Week runds from 21-28 July, and Open Singles every Thursday. The Annual Club Classic runs from 7-9 June, with €3,000 in prizes.

8. Green Fee and Society rate?

Green fees €30 (Mon-Fri), €35 (Sat-Sun). Early Bird and Twilight Offers available online.

FERMOY, CO CORK

A hilltop parkland with a self-assured sense of adventure. Fermoy is one of those courses that rarely makes the rankings but is a riot of fun.

1. What are your key goals in 2019?

The club’s goals are to continue with course development and improvements, retain existing members, attract new members and expand the Junior programme.

2. What is happening on the course?

Six tee boxes (Gents and Ladies) are being upgraded. The club is also in the middle of a tree planting programme to replace some 1,200 trees lost in storms Darwin and Ophelia.

3. How is your membership drive progressing?

“Over the last four years we have increased our general membership marginally, year on year, which is positive considering the huge drop in golf globally,” says secretary manager, Denis Twomey. “But it is an ongoing struggle for all clubs. The biggest increase is in Ladies and Junior golf mainly due to some very committed members who ran various programmes in recent years.”

4. Any Get into Golf or membership programmes planned?

Ladies and Gents Get Into Golf Programmes will run in 2019. Fermoy is also planning an ‘Open Day’ where prospective members can play the course and have any queries answered.

5. What will you be doing differently in 2019?

A new structure is being planned which will offer improved benefits for existing and new sponsors. The club will also be announcing a new mid-week competition for members/visitors under a new club sponsor.

6. What do you consider to be the greatest challenges facing Fermoy GC?

“The club’s age profile and attracting new members in the face of the huge drop in numbers worldwide,” says Twomey. “This makes it very difficult financially for clubs to operate. Recent changes in legislation have already had a huge impact on our bar and catering turnover.”

7. When is Open Week?

Dates are to be confirmed for a summer Open Week. The club also hosts an Open Development Classic, which will run from August 30th to September 1st.

8. Green Fee and Society rates?

Green Fees €25 weekdays, and €30 weekends. Society rates available on request.

CARTON HOUSE, CO KILDARE

Carton House is home to two championship courses (Montgomerie and O’Meara) and a luxury resort.

Very different in style and pace, the two courses offer contrasting challenges. Following investment the playability and quality of the courses has been considerably enhanced.

1. What are your key goals in 2019?

“The goal is to improve the overall golfing experience, from the initial booking stage, to playing, right through to the clubhouse experience,” says Sean Clancy, the resort’s Golf sales manager. “We would also like to build upon the fact that we have hosted three Irish Opens and, more recently, the 2018 World Amateur Team Championships. No other course can boast this.”

2. What is happening at the club?

Over the next four months the clubhouse will be refurbished. This includes work on the bar, restaurant, members lounge, locker rooms and golf shop. This is part of a major project to refurbish the entire hotel and original manor house.

3. Any Get into Golf Programmes planned?

Junior, Lady and Get into Golf programmes will be introduced at the Academy during the year.

4. What will you be doing differently in 2019?

“Carton House has long been the home of the Golf Union of Ireland, within which is the Titleist National Fitting Centre,” says Clancy.

“Over the next few months we will be introducing additional fitting offers from other top brands which we believe will round off the already top class offering at the Academy.”

5. What Open events are there?

Carton House plans to host more regular Open events on both courses. The resort is working on an event which will include holes from both championship courses. Once finalised this will be promoted through social media.

6. Green Fee and Society rates?

Green fees from €55 for GUI visitors and societies. Golfers may pay a slightly higher rate to play on the championship and Irish Open hosting Montgomerie course.

ARDGLASS, CO DOWN

Cliff-top beauty and coastline elegance, Ardglass also boasts the oldest clubhouse in the world and a rising reputation. Design changes by Ken Kearney are well underway.

1. What are the key plans for Ardglass in 2019?

“The 148th Open at Royal Portrush has seen us reach almost full capacity around the event,” says Paul Vaughan, Director of Golf. “Our number one aim throughout the year is to make sure every visitor has a great experience from start to finish, and we have a few extra things in place for 2019 to enhance this experience.”

2. What is happening on the course?

“We recently finished Phase 3 of our Course Development Plan,” says Vaughan. “With an additional six bunkers added to the 6th it adds hugely to the hole’s vista and challenge.” All par three tee boxes have been upgraded and an additional new tee box at the magical 12th creates an all-over water tee shot of 185 yards.

3. How is your membership drive progressing?

Healthy but not back to pre-credit crunch levels. Ladies and Junior sections are up. Social membership has seen a slight increase with a marketing drive to get the community more involved in the club.

4. Any Get into Golf Programmes planned?

A very successful Ladies Get into Golf programme has delivered strong results.

5. What will you be doing differently in 2019?

“With the Open Championship we will be exploring some ideas to see if they work long-term,” Vaughan says. “Examples are a new concessions hut at the 9th tee and extended parking for buses. We will also be attending the North American Convention in Austin, Texas, for the first time. We see this as a huge stepping stone in our marketing efforts.”

6. What do you consider to be the greatest challenges facing Ardglass?

“If we can keep a solid membership base and continue to invest in the tourism market then Ardglass has a bright future. It goes without saying we are all anxious to see what Brexit brings.”

7. What Open events are there?

Open Stableford on second Thursday and Seniors Open on the last Thursday of every month. Ladies Opens throughout the summer and Men’s Opens on selected Saturdays.

8. Green Fee and Society rates?

Green Fees: Mon-Fri £100 (€112), Sat-Sun £130 (€145) (GUI £55/£60 (€62/€67) Societies (12 golfers+) from £30 (€33.50) including food.


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