Leinster 'Roadmap' shows clubs route to solid financial footing
WITH apologies to Charles Dickens, these are the best of times and the worst of times for Irish golf. Never before has our small island enjoyed such astonishing success at Major championships, with Rory McIlroy and Graeme McDowell likely to perform further heroics in the Grand Slam arena this year.
There's also a host of hugely impressive young players swarming up the elite amateur ladder.
They range from prolific University of Alabama scholar Stephanie Meadow, No 4 in the women's world amateur rankings, to Gavin Moynihan and Dermot McElroy, prominent on the 12-man European team which, from tomorrow, takes on Asia in the three-day Sir Michael Bonallack Trophy in Bangalore.
Yet golf in Ireland is being ravaged by recession.
Pat Finn, general secretary at the GUI, says the number of male adult paying members in Irish clubs has fallen from a high of 177,000 to around 130,000, while Sinead Heraty, chief executive of the ILGU, confirms that the ladies' figures have dropped by 12,000 from a peak of 52,000.
The loss of a cumulative 59,000 members since the start of the downturn has left Irish clubs facing a financial conundrum which an ever-growing number find impossible to resolve.
As the pool of adult paying members tumbles to 170,000, roughly 2003 levels, clubs inevitably are struggling to meet financial commitments they made to extend facilities and upgrade services in boom times.
Yet the sport is fighting back.
Leinster Golf leapt to the fore last night as they unveiled a remarkably extensive, intuitive and aggressive strategic plan, 'Roadmap 2017', to help golf in the province to maximise its resources and meet the challenges it faces.
Ten areas are identified, from coaching to clubs and finance to membership, in which 44 initiatives are proposed for completion over the next three years.
In summary, Leinster's intention is:
a) To foster and support a national recruitment drive for new golfers. Visitors are constantly invited to come here and play but, incredibly, there has never been a campaign to encourage Irish people to try the sport.
b) To make golf as fulfilling and enjoyable as possible for those already playing, for example by tackling the scourge of slow play, making instruction more readily available, producing DVDs on etiquette and monitoring the handicap system.
c) To streamline Leinster's own legislative structure, communicate more effectively with its 59,000 club members and, through improved public relations, the entire community.
d) To offer struggling golf clubs advice on effective ways of recruiting new members and guidance for those who desire it to maximise their business potential and efficiency.
The latter is critically important, according to the executive summary of 'Roadmap 17', which states that "golf and non-golf income for member clubs is diminishing, placing many of them at risk of terminal decline."
The number of clubs affiliated to the GUI fell from 432 in 2012 to 423 at the end of last year. The current total in Leinster is 168 clubs, with six closing down – Leinster Hills, The Glebe, Tuskar Rock, Woodlands, Bodenstown and, imminently, Navan GC.
Naturally, this does not include clubs in receivership – who, incidentally, offer golf at rates which the solvent cannot match, compounding pressure on those already battling to stay afloat.
Crucially, Leinster is deeply reliant not just on the GUI but also the sport's new umbrella organisation, the Confederation of Golf in Ireland.
Aside from overseeing of Irish golf's participation at the Olympics and the provision of high-performance funding for novice professionals, the confederation's primary focus is "the development of the sport and of golf clubs", according to its chief executive John Roche.
"Really, we are about trying to create a better awareness of golf and developing programmes that focus on getting men, women and juniors to play," he adds. "But it also to make sure we bring those customers, if you like, to clubs that have good governance, good business structures and good coaching programmes."
Roche, a successful businessman who is president of Bray GC, was a member – with John McKernan, Paddy Murphy, Teresa Thompson and convenor Aidan Marsden – of the strategy development committee that drew up 'Roadmap 2017'.
Leinster, who initiated this strategy under branch chairman Kevin McIntyre in September 2012 to mark last year's centenary, are very much "singing from the same hymn sheet" as the umbrella body.
Roche intends to draw on the vast wealth of information Leinster Golf gleaned from an extensive survey of 8,300 golf club members, various other stakeholders and officials from other sports, including the GAA and Leinster Rugby.
The confederation is pressing ahead with a nationwide survey of Ireland's clubs. Incidentally, a similar effort conducted by the new Golf Clubs Business Association of Ireland should come in handy.
The nett cost of implementing Leinster Golf's strategy is just €60,000 per annum, which they propose should be covered by an increase in the annual levy.
The current subscription for club members in the province runs at €19 (€13 to the GUI and €6 to Leinster). With 59,000 members an increase of just over €1 would cover the cost of a strategy which will make Leinster Golf competitive and recession-proof long into the 21st century.