CHARLIE MULQUEEN: Clubs fighting to retain members

The fee-paying members of the Golfing Union of Ireland and its constituent clubs have dropped by 43,795 (or 5%) over the last 10 years, according to the union’s financial controller, Michael Malone.

Over at the Irish Ladies Golf Union, chief executive Sinead Heraty reports a similar situation as their male equivalents, with a 5% drop since 2008 from 51,000 members to 37,000.

These figures have caused all concerned to take positive steps to counter what may well develop into a crisis situation should the trend continue.

It is understood that at least 75% of the country’s clubs owe considerable amounts, with several in debt to more than a million euro.

Michael Malone revealed to the Irish Examiner that fee-paying members to the union dropped from a peak of 177,149 in 2004 to 133,354 in 2014.

There are few signs of the slide halting, leaving several clubs wondering about their futures. Over the last two years, nine clubs have closed their doors.

“The union’s fee-paying numbers peaked in 2004 when we had 177,149 affiliated,” explained Malone.

“By 2008, the downward trend was slow but steady, 174,822 to be precise. And now it is as low as 133,354. The current breakdown province by province is Leinster, in excess of 58,000 members; Connacht 10,424; Munster 28,910 and Ulster 35,100. The number of juniors peaked in 2009 at 24,532 and now amounts to 21,077. Where the number of clubs is concerned... in 1981, we had 247 affiliated, paying fees of £62,275; that increased to 413 in 2004 paying €177,149 and as recently as 2012 we had 432 clubs. Sadly that’s down to 423.”

ILGU chief Heraty is confident that change is in the air.

“This is the first year in the last six when there has been an evident slowdown in loss of memberships, down from 5% to 2%,” she said. “This is best reflected in the big cities and especially Dublin where the figures are actually up on previous years but it also tells us that the trend in the rest of the country is not in our favour. The drop has impinged on our plans in various areas, mainly coaching, and we are not allowed borrow money.

“But we have been able to cut our cloth to our measure .”

The unions acknowledge the seriousness of the situation and 12 months ago, along with the Irish Professional Golfing Association, founded the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI).

Increasing the number of playing numbers is high among their objectives with special emphasis on juniors and females. John Roche and his team of golf development officers that includes Irish international Rory Leonard (East), Jennifer Hickey (South) and Justin O’Byrne (West), have visited half the clubs in the country urging them to adopt best business practices as a means of confronting their problems.

“So far we have run six business seminars and interest has been considerable,” Roche said. “It’s a case of clubs putting their hands up and admitting they have a problem. At first, many seemed dazed about what happened before reality set in. They knew they had to do something and we are there to help.”


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