Limerick Golf school in the rough as pros clash on plan

Mike Dwane

Reporter:

Mike Dwane

TOP female golf professional Barbara Hackett has cried foul on plans by her male counterpart, Donal McSweeney to open a new driving range and training academy on the outskirts of the city.

TOP female golf professional Barbara Hackett has cried foul on plans by her male counterpart, Donal McSweeney to open a new driving range and training academy on the outskirts of the city.

Now plans by golfer Donal McSweeney to develop a driving range and training academy in Annacotty have been met with an objection from the operator of a similar facility on the other side of the city who says jobs could be put at risk.

Barbara Hackett, a pro-golfer who has represented Ireland, runs the driving range in Coonagh and has warned Limerick County Council that permitting the proposed development would leave the Limerick area “saturated” with such facilities and leave her business struggling to survive.

Mr McSweeney was formerly the golf professional at Limerick County Golf Club in Ballyneety, where he managed the driving range for over 10 years. Limerick County has recently been wound up and ceased trading in January with debts of over €2.5 million.

In December, he lodged plans with Limerick County Council to develop a driving range, training academy, office and shop at Annacotty Business Park.

But Ms Hackett lodged an objection to these plans within a matter of weeks. She said that as well as her own driving range in Coonagh, there were a further four facilities open to the general public “within a 25-mile radius of Limerick” - at Dromoland, Tipperary, Ballykisteen and Newcastlewest

“There are also facilities in private clubs which are accessible to members only. In short, Limerick city and county and neighbouring counties are saturated with golf facilities, all of which are struggling for survival at present,” Ms Hackett wrote.

“Given the current economic climate, the golf industry very much falls into the ‘luxury spend’ area and consequently is an industry in decline. Figures available from all local golf clubs and existing driving ranges, including the one I run in Coonagh, will all confirm a decline in membership and casual trade and will overall indicate an industry which is very much struggling.”

The closure of the facilities in Ballyneety in the days prior to her objection only served to “highlight the difficulties” in the sector at present, although Ms Hackett states she expects Ballyneety will reopen under new management “in the near future”.

She has three employees in Coonagh and says “if another driving range opens in the Limerick area, it will divide the customer base for this sector to the level where none of the three facilities (including Ballyneety) are commercially viable”.

“This has an obvious knock-on effect for all parties concerned including the possible loss of jobs and the possible loss of revenue for councils in respect of rates payments in the event of business closures,” Ms Hackett stated.

A decision is due from the county council in the coming days.