THIS weekend will mark exactly three months since we had any live sport to cover due to the Covid-19 pandemic.
While the threat of coronavirus began to get very real very quickly in early March, on the sixth day of the month as we watched Newington, Belfast Celtic and St James’ Swifts join Dollingstown in the semi-finals of the Intermediate Cup, little did we know that it would be the final action we would set out eyes on for a quarter of a year and counting.
Rightly so, the need to stay at home and protect our communities became the priority as sport joined the rest of our day-to-day lives by grinding to a halt.
The threat of this killer virus remains, so social distancing is still absolutely crucial if society wishes to stamp the disease into the ground and prevent a dreaded second wave that will cost further lives and set us back to square one.
Whilst it may be frustrating for some, there is light at the end of the tunnel and last week, the reopening of golf courses has provided some respite and Colin Glen Leisure is just one of many courses that have seen an influx since the greens reopened.
Their team has ensured that the necessary adjustments were put in place, in line with protocols put forward by the Golf Union of Ireland (GUI) and Irish Ladies Golf Union (ILGU) to ensure the safety of staff and players.
Conor McCallion, Commercial Manager of Colin Glen Trust which runs the nine-hole course and their Toptracer Driving Range, says their reopening has been a major success and their measures to adhere to social distancing and public safety has run like clockwork.
A new, online booking system has also proven to be a hit as golfers can book their tee-time or slot in the driving range, which has allowed staff to successfully monitor usage and ensure that social distancing and user numbers are managed successfully.
“The golf and driving range have been really encouraging and the new booking system has worked really well,” he said.
“This all coincided with a new website so the first trial of it turned out to be the reopening.
“It was a bit of a headache at the start, but it has worked well as everything has to be pre-booked so there aren’t groups all turning up at the same time. That helps from a management point of view to control numbers at any one time and things have been working very well so far.”
Whilst a round of golf can see players easily keep their distance and reduce any danger as they play their own ball, in the case of a driving range, handling pre-used balls makes that a little trickier but Colin Glen has introduced a system to reduce the risk.
“Following our redevelopment at the range last year, our driving range has bays bigger than your average range bay as they can accommodate up to four people and we can maintain social distance in each without a problem,” Conor confirmed.
“It’s one full hour in the driving range and one per bay.
“As things lift further we may get two in each bay, but we’re following the recommendations from the Golf Union of Ireland.
“We put in hand sanitiser and wipes in each bay. We have a ball cleaner with a disinfectant solution so we have been ticking the boxes and things have been very positive.”
Return of golf a welcome boost after three bleak, sport-less months
Above and below: players enjoy the driving range complete with Toptracer technology before lockdown
While the course is currently members only, Colin Glen offers a range of membership packages online including short term memberships which have also proven popular to people from across Belfast and beyond.
“We have people coming from across the city, so it’s not just locals from West Belfast,” added Conor.
“We would be an affordable choice for many people and that’s why our membership numbers have grown.
“Since we reopened we expected an increase in demand, especially with the weather, but the numbers achieved were beyond what was expected.
“It has really tested our systems and we are delighted with the results.”
As part of the same complex, Colin Glen also has small outdoor soccer courts they hope can open in the near future and while their popular indoor dome remains closed until it is safe for groups to meet indoors, there is the potential to resume outdoor activity as restrictions ease.
“The pitches could potentially open soon for groups from the same family who would want to use them although the indoor dome will be out of action for a while,” Conor revealed.
“The dome was big for us in February with different tournaments but we have the outside pitches and are thinking if we can bring in personal trainers again once things relax as we have options with the outdoor pitches that are all individually caged off, so it makes things easier again.
“We have to thank our customers for adhering to our measures and taking the changes in their stride. Their patience made the reopening much more manageable and we look forward to the future.”