Golf in Ireland starts afresh this week following the landslide vote for a united governing body but the chief executives of the outgoing Irish Ladies Golf Union and Golfing Union of Ireland are under no illusions that the hard work only really starts now.
Last Saturday’s historic decision to change the status quo of how golf is run in this country brought an end to a three-year consultation process conducted by the ILGU and GUI, which for 125 and 127 years respectively have governed the game on this island along gender lines.
Both bodies’ delegates voted emphatically to end that style of governance and create a single, unified governing body to be known as Golf Ireland with 94% of GUI delegates to its Special General Meeting in Knightsbrook, Co Meath backing the organisation’s proposal to vote itself out of existence.
At the ILGU’s AGM over at the Moran Red Cow Hotel in Dublin, the yes vote was an astonishing 100% in favour and both ILGU chief executive Sinead Heraty and GUI counterpart Pat Finn are delighted their strategy and the efforts made to introduce it, have been endorsed so resoundingly, the size of their mandate being seen as a sure sign that its constituent clubs want change.
“Clubs have told us throughout the consultation phase they are hungry to be led,” Heraty told the Irish Examiner.
“I’ve gone out in the past and spoken to women’s sections of golf clubs about equality and structures of management committee and governance structures and what is required and all the rest of it and they buy into it absolutely. But then the men’s side will say, ‘well that’s only speaking to that side of the house’ and so Pat will go out and talk to the men’s side of the house. If we’re not speaking as one then no change happens.
“With Golf Ireland we speak with one voice, one strategy, one set of overarching principles saying this is what the governing body is saying. People will think that is a subtle change at the moment but I see it as a very significant part of the proposal.”
The vote to disband both bodies and create Golf Ireland, Heraty added, “allows us to go into a two-year transition period where you will look at the structure of the new organisation and start to implement it. We have been in the design phase of a major programme of change for three years, implementation is where it becomes really hard. And we think the last three years has been hard but it will be nothing to the next two years when people actually feel the impact of that.”
GUI chief executive Finn continued: “In terms of beginning to see change, I think one of the jobs during the two-year transition period will be to build a model of structures. At the moment, a club has to have a GUI-affiliated club and an ILGU-affiliated club within it so it has to have these separate sections and this antiquated governance structure.
“Once Golf Ireland is up-and-running, clubs will no longer need those separate sections and many of them have told us they’ll be looking for a more modern structure and out support in that.
“So one of the first jobs will be to start designing these club structures and issuing them to clubs and that’s when the change will potentially begin within clubs if they want to change and many of them have said they do.
“So the impact of it should be pretty quick but it won’t be up-and-running for doing the championships and high performance and international events and all that until the two-year transition period is up.”
Finn hit upon one of the more interesting dynamics at play in the governing body-club relationship, taken up by Heraty, that Golf Ireland will not be trying to impose unnecessary change but lead by example in the expectation that clubs will follow suit.
The ILGU chief executive described that challenge as: “Significant”.
“We’ve been discussing this for three years and right throughout one of the challenges is that expectation on one side of the house to say ‘don’t impose change, we want the status quo to remain as is’ and the other side of the house saying ‘we want to see this change and change radically’.
“So it is about getting that shift on both sides to achieve something that is possible. I think if the organisation has very good people in place it will lead to change and they will lead by example.”