Golf was one of a number of sports to see a big increase in participation during the pandemic. Although courses were closed at three different stages through 2020 and 2021, the sport added over 20,000 registered players. That increase reversed a decade of dropping numbers and there are over 200,000 Golf Ireland members with golf making as the fourth highest sport in terms of participation in Ireland. Overall it’s thought that there are over 500,000 people who play golf once a year, and the governing body will be hoping to convert more of the 300,000 casual golfers into club members.
Golf for Everyone is the name of the five year plan that launches this week, and there is something for everyone in it. Inclusion was one of the key values set out during the launch phase of Golf Ireland, and Chief Executive Mark Kenneally was keen to reinforce this. “The creation of Golf Ireland was, at its core, the bringing together of women and men to work together for the betterment of our great sport.” Kennelly said. “That spirit has been very evident in our first year of existence when our fantastic volunteers helped deliver an outstanding programme of top-class events. That same spirit will be the key to the success of this first Strategic Plan. We invite the entire golf community, Board, Committees, Regional Executives, Clubs, Players, Volunteers, Staff and Partners – to help us make it a reality.”
The current numbers are pretty impressive. Last year there were close to three million competition rounds played in Ireland, with almost 90% of these over 18 holes. The industry employs over 9,000 people and over €540m is spent annually. Golf tourism is a key part of this and with tourists accounting for about half the revenue, the year ahead is likely to be crucial as tourism recovers. Ireland can also look forward to the hosting of the Ryder Cup in five years. As well as that the R&A recently confirmed that the Open Champion ship would return to Portrush in 2025, Ireland is due to host and Irish Ladies Open in 2021 for the first time in over a decade. All of this should help Golf Ireland to promote the game domestically and encourage more participation.
The development of the strategy follows consultation with every corner of the golf community through surveys, focus groups and data analysis. It also included research with non-golfers to find out more about how the game can be made open, attractive and accessible to them. The research conducted by Golf Ireland shows there are 500,000 casual golfers on the island and over 40% of the population are open to the idea of playing the game, therefore the aim is to provide opportunities for more people, to play more golf, more regularly. On attraction of the game it that golf is a lifelong game that has proven benefits for both physical and mental health. In an average 9-hole round a player will take over 5,000 steps so it is a great way for people of all ages and abilities to have fun and be active. In addition, the ability to play the game outdoors and in a naturally socially distanced manner, has helped participation thrive and in popularity over the last two years.
‘Golf For Everyone’ is the first time in Ireland the sport will have a cohesive strategy which provides a framework to shape and grow the game and the strategy breaks it down into 18 key objectives.
Supporting clubs is one of the five key focus areas for the new plan and Golf Ireland have set some ambitious targets. The plan aims to retain the 12% increase in overall membership and lay the foundations for further sustainable growth. The plan also hopes to drive more use of the one club model that sees all stakeholders in the club having a say in how the club in managed. Traditionally many clubs were effectively run by the men with the ladies holding associate membership or branch status. Equality legislation put the membership on an equal footing, and the single governing body now provides clubs with an ideal opportunity to embrace that model at club level. In all there are 16 other objectives that make up the model to take the sport through to 2026.
Kinsale golfer John Murphy was on hand to help launch the plan prior to travelling to the US for AT&T PGA Tour event and he is one of many young golfers who have benefitted from the junior strategy. As a teenager, John availed of the very progressive junior golf programme in Kinsale Golf Club, and when he was selected on a Munster development panel he also benefited from the provincial coaching structure. It’s no surprise that John still works closely with Ian Stafford his first coach from Kinsale, and Paul Kiely, his coach on the Munster Development Panel now that he has turned professional.
The tables were turned for John in December when he joined the Irish high performance teams in Portmarnock, and this time he was on the outside looking in. “It was great to see everyone again, a lot of people I would have seen growing up and in college. It was great to see the women’s high performance panel. It was cool to see everyone together.” 2021 was the first time that women’s and mens events took place together and the 2022 schedule will see more events taking place together at provincial and national level. Murphy makes his PGA Tour debut today, he’s spent the past week practicing on the three famous courses in California, and along with his caddy Shane O’Connell he’ll be hoping for some good golf over the coming days.