Umbrella body supporting clubs in difficult climate
From a soft launch in 2013, the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI) is set for what promises to be a ground-breaking gathering at Croke Park next month. Representatives from all key strands of the game's administration on this island, will be addressed by a representative from Augusta National.
Much has been happening within the CGI since a development plan was formally outlined in the presence of Pádraig Harrington almost 18 months ago. And it extends way beyond their involvement with next year's Olympic Games, which had been the main focus originally.
Their director of golf and business development, John Roche, has since visited each of the 415 affiliated Irish clubs, offering a broad range of support to meet rapidly-changing demands. And he can report a most encouraging response.
It seemed appropriate that we should meet recently at Clontarf GC where the Irish Schools Junior Boys Championship was being staged under the auspices of the Leinster Branch GUI. Indeed one of the officials checking scores happened to be Paddy Murphy, who made his own, memorable impact on Augusta when attending the 2000 Masters as president of the GUI.
That was when Harrington was making his Masters debut. And you can imagine his surprise and delight when, on emerging onto the course side of the charming old clubhouse, the first two people he saw were Murphy and Sam Snead.
The Augusta National official speaking at Croke Park on November 24 is the clubhouse manager Kevin Bazoda. And the main thrust of his presentation will concern customer service within golf which, needless to remark, has to be of a particularly high standard at his place of work.
In appointing Roche, the initial objective was to put in place a joint programme for the GUI, ILGU and PGA Irish Region to cover the remainder of this decade. "We're here to support the clubs," he explained. "Apart from myself, we have five people on the road, covering the whole of the island.
"Two of them are business development officers and the other three are what we call participation officers who got their grounding in Junior Golf Ireland. So they have practical experience."
He went on: "Our business development officers can go into a golf club, sit down with the management committee and give them any advice which may be deemed appropriate, like putting a business plan together. Club structures, including governance, can also be assessed, which is the norm in Continental countries.
"A particularly heartening discovery has been the remarkable goodwill that exists between the home unions in exchanging ideas. The Welsh, for instance, have recently adopted a club development pioneered by Newcastle West GC."
Given that golf here is a 32-county sport, funding for the CGI comes from the unions, the PGA, from the Irish Sports Council and Sport Northern Ireland. Initially, CGI officials visited clubs on an exploratory basis, offering support and indicating what they could do to help, if required, like in the area of recruiting new members or satisfying existing ones.
From a financial perspective, struggling clubs have been assisted in making a presentation to a bank which could determine their actual survival. And from the other side of the coin, CGI officials can explain a bank's requirement from a club, regarding a coherent business plan incorporating basic budgets and long-term objectives.
"In answering the call, our staff will go into a club and work with the general manager and the relevant committees," said Roche. "We'll put a programme together. I feel I understand the process, having come into this job from owning my own event-management company and as the current president of Bray GC. In fact I previously served as treasurer and junior chairman of my club, and have wide experience of committee work, stretching over 11 years, as well as several years as a volunteer with the Leinster Branch."
By way of emphasising an enthusiasm for the game from an early age, he went on to explain that his father was a prominent member of both Woodbrook GC and Newlands GC. And he recalled how, as a 14-year-old lad in 1976, he wrote to the R and A enquiring how he might get to the Open Championship at Royal Birkdale. And when they indicated his options by reply, he pointed out to his sceptical parents that he could stay with an aunt in Southport.
"So I applied for a ticket and persuaded my folks to let me make the trip," he said. "I can vividly recall getting on the train to Birkdale every morning. And I remember eating a bar of chocolate at the back of the 18th green on the Saturday when Harry Carpenter, who would have been working with the BBC, came over and asked if I was enjoying the experience.
"Another memory from that trip was going down to Southport Beach and seeing the great Red Rum being exercised on the sand, when he was everybody's favourite Grand National runner."
Meanwhile, the considerable benefit of having an umbrella body for golf on this island, is illustrated perfectly by the Croke Park gathering. The Golf Course Superintendents' Association of Ireland normally hold their annual event for up to 250 greenkeepers there. And it was also planned this year to have a training event for the PGA on the same day.
Against this background, it wasn't a great stretch to broaden things even further so as to involve the CGI, the Irish Golf Club Managers and the European Club Managers. Especially with a representative of Augusta National ready to address them.
"It will be a marvellous opportunity for the various people working in golf to mix, exchange views and generally network," said Roche. "The message is that we can all make Irish golf better by working together."
And just to be sure that they're on the right road, the CGI have asked business consultants Deloitte to do a governance book on golf, as they have done on other sports. "The objective is to give such a book to a golf club so as to show them what good governance looks like; what a good committee looks like and how the right people can be recruited onto a committee," added the CGI official.
"We want clubs to recognise the value of somebody in their ranks with a certain expertise. And to be able to seek the benefit of that expertise with the confidence that they'll respond: 'Yes, I could do that.'"
It seems a perfect fit that a significant milestone on this promising journey for golf should be taking place at such an iconic venue. For Croke Park has been the source of so many great developments in Irish sport down the years.
Sunday Indo Sport