The legion of the lost: 50,000 have left GUI in last eight years
Where have the missing 50,000 GUI members gone? That's the number of golfers who have opted out of either club membership and/or the game since the recession began in 2008.
It begs the question as to what percentage of ex-GUI golfers completely gave up playing the game, and how many went on to avail of the huge drop in green fees as the economy faltered, albeit no longer joining clubs. Anecdotally, anyone active in golf knows many people who took the latter option.
Indeed, with the almost total disappearance of entrance fees, clubs have difficulty in estimating their income for the coming year due to the competitive nature of membership offers. Personally, I'm aware of a group of seven enthusiasts who joined a Dublin club together in 2014, leaving their former clubs because they reckoned they had a better option at the new base.
But now, they've assessed their needs for 2017, and they found they can get full membership cheaper than their previous five-day model. A couple of their friends, who would have joined them in their former club, are linking up with them at the new facility. Result: a loss of around €10,000 to their 2016 club, and a corresponding increase in income for their 2017 golfing facility.
How long will they stay? Who knows? But these golfers are just a small cohort of the thousands who can join and leave clubs as circumstances - personal, financial, and golfing - dictate.
The move does not cast aspersions either on the golfers, or on their former club, which, in fact, has upgraded and improved the course and is a highly-rated layout.
Opportunity knocked for the club which welcomes the group because the lads are very keen golfers who decided they want weekend competition as opposed to a midweek offering, and found that seven-day membership was available at an attractive price. The good news for the GUI is that these golfers, and many more who will change clubs or join one for the first time in 2017, will operate as card-carrying, paid-up members of the Union.
Many more have gone away, never to return, and Pat Finn, the GUI chief executive, highlighted the effect the loss of members has had on the Union over the last eight years.
Finn, speaking in a podcast interview released by the GUI, made reference to the cuts to budgets which had taken place since '08, and said the €3 increase in the national portion of subscriptions applied for 2016 was the first in eight years.
"We've lost 50,000 members in that period of time between 2008 and 2016 so 50,000 times 13 (euro) is a significant amount of money, whereas the increase of €3 that we've applied this year represents an income of about €400,000. We need that money to continue to do what we were set up to do," he said.
One of the activities which the GUI do very well is presenting competitive teams and developing quality golfers through their coaching structures. Finn praised national coach Neil Manchip, who is also Shane Lowry's coach. He believes the diversity of courses, the quality of coaching and competition has helped elevate the standards of our top golfers, but singled out Pádraig Harrington for special mention.
Finn said Harrington broke two 'massive barriers' in winning the 2007 Irish Open and Open Championship and created a new level of belief among ambitious Irish male and female golfers.