Avoiding the rough in search to secure Irish golfing growth

Tim O'Connor.

It is all very well taking the historic steps to form an inclusive governing body for the game on this island, but with preparations underway for Golf Ireland to supersede the Golfing Union of Ireland and the Irish Ladies Golf Union in January 2021, a leader needs to be found for the brave new world.

Former diplomat Tim O’Connor is the person tasked with steering the recruitment process for Golf Ireland’s first chief executive. He is chairman of the transition board, which was set up in February, a month after member clubs of both the GUI and ILGU adopted the proposal to form a single governing body. Applications for the position of chief executive opened on April 26 and O’Connor is leading the search.

“Golf is doing a very exciting thing on the island of Ireland – it is starting again,” he said. “Our first critical task is to appoint a chief executive. It is a big job. It’s going to require somebody with a big track record and a wide range of abilities but it’s a great opportunity.

The chief executive is somebody who has to understand organisational change and cultural change, and have the ability to inspire people.

A Limerick native, O’Connor served as Consul General of Ireland in New York from 2005 to 2007 and was also a member of the Irish Government talks team for the Good Friday Agreement, the inaugural Joint Secretary of the North/South Ministerial Council. He was also captain of Edmondstown Golf Club in Rathfarnham in 2017.

Speaking on the latest GUI Podcast, with the CEO recruitment process in full swing, O’Connor addressed some key questions facing Golf Ireland.

Q: What has brought about the need for Golf Ireland?

A: I think the GUI and the ILGU recognised that the way golf had operated had taken the game as far as it could and now the time had come to fundamentally restructure and begin again.

The goal is to create a new structure and a new culture. Golf in Ireland is facing many challenges and the view of both unions is that the best way to harness the full potential of this great sport is to create a new single body.

Q: What are the major requirements of the first chief executive of Golf Ireland?

A: The chief executive must be a proven leader and must be able to gain the confidence of a wide range of stakeholders and demonstrate they can handle a complex mix of issues.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish as chairman of the Transition Board?

A: My goal, working with my colleagues on the transition board, and the GUI and ILGU, is to have the best possible organisational structures in place, based on best practice governance, to hand over to the first board of Golf Ireland on January 1, 2021.

As a transition board, we are an autonomous body in the carrying out of our duties but at the same time, we have a defined mandate. We are obliged to follow the template that has been set out for us in the Golf Ireland proposal.

What we have is a great starting point – a comprehensive vision and pathway that have already been mapped out, based on the principles of equality, inclusivity and diversity.

Q: What kind of person will be the right fit to lead Golf Ireland?

A: Somebody with a strong track record in leadership and managing change. Leadership to me is showing that you understand and can live the vision for Golf Ireland.

The culture of Golf Ireland will be an important feature of the new journey also and the chief executive will have a key role in leading and driving that. Leadership of the organisation internally is another important requirement.

Plus, the chief executive must be able to win the confidence of other stakeholders over whom they do not have authority. And, of course, they must be able to work comfortably and capably in an all-island context.

Q: What are the biggest challenges facing the game of golf in Ireland and the game in general?

A: All the people involved in golf know what a fantastic sport it is. We know how beneficial it is in terms of wellbeing for individuals, for communities, and for society.

At the same time, we have to face the fact that golf club membership has been in decline over the past 10 to 15 years and that is a big worry for clubs, and for those of us who care about the spread of the sport.

Q: Governance in Irish sporting organisations has come under the microscope. Will you be working closely with government bodies?

A: I have already held meetings with the chief executives of both Sport Ireland and Sport NI. We will be working with them in the closest possible way. Both John Treacy and Antoinette McKeown have been very supportive and encouraging.

We want to make sure that we have best practice in place in every respect. That is particularly the case regarding governance and we have already set up a subcommittee of the transition board to look at that.

We want to hand over a world-class governance structure that is working in the closest consort with the national bodies and gives confidence to all stakeholders.

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