In 2005, at the height of the Celtic Tiger boom, a new golf course opened in County Kildare. Moyvalley Golf and Country Club was a dazzling affair with a hotel and spa plus on-course homes available to buy or rent. Membership was pitched at a signing on fee of EUR75,000 with annual subs of EUR3,000. Initial take up was good but as the signals of a slowdown became evident, customers discharged up. Today you can join Moyvalley for between EUR5,000 and EUR10,000 depending on your negotiating skills!
As recently as 18 months ago, the price of a four ball in The Old Head of Kinsale Golf Links was EUR1,100 when you included buggies. That's EUR275 per head without food or refreshments. Four friends played it in September last for EUR70 each, including buggy and the club were glad to take their money. In the new golf scene in Ireland, the customer is king – and long live the king!
For if ever a hobby mirrored the worst excesses of the boom in Ireland it was golf. Since the late nineties, green fees at even the most humble of golf clubs have quadrupled. Similarly, the increase in membership fees went out of control. Back then, it seemed to be only a matter of building it, naming your price and they will come. But in the Ireland of 2010, they do not come any more. Reality has taken a grip on the situation. We live in a society that has a deflation rate of 6% across a broad range of goods and services that comprise the cost of living index in Ireland. Golf green fees would form no part of that index but if they were examined, incredible reductions of 100% to1000% are evident across the island.
Headfort New is a stunning creation in Kells, County Meath. It was one of the few membership clubs that added a second course from their own resources and they made a magnificent job of it. In the mid-noughties, they charged EUR75 per round green fees. It was, in fairness, not an exorbitant amount for the times that was in it and given the outstanding quality of the course. The K Club were charging EUR225 for a round at the same time by way of comparison. Now, Headfort are happy to take EUR30 per round and there is not a line out the gate to play it. The K Club, we understand, are happy to negotiate deals. You bet they are!
All across the country, members are leaving clubs in an effort to cut back on outgoings as the implementation of budget cuts hits home and uncertainty regarding jobs becoming the priority of people whose only previous concern was their handicap. Where once there was a waiting list to get into almost all Irish clubs, now you will be welcomed with open arms at least less than those who might be with you on the first tee paid. Many golf courses are on the brink of closure while many others have cut back on maintenance costs, which is not a good omen for the future quality of those courses.
However for the moment survival is what it is all about for these clubs and for those visitors coming to Ireland or Irish golfers traveling to other parts of the country, there is outstanding value to be had on the fairways of Ireland. Even those US and UK visitors who are suffering from the strong currency that is the Euro, the transactions stack up as worthwhile. It makes 2010 the year to be considering a golfing holiday in Ireland.