Comprising the Golfing Union of Ireland, the Irish Ladies Golf Union and the PGA, the CGI has been created partly to fulfil the retirement of the Olympic movement for one body to deal with the administration of Ireland’s Olympic golf team.
But it has also been set up to halt the dramatic 80,000 drop (25%) in golf club membership over the last decade and put in place the structures to get more people — especially women — playing the game.
Speaking at the launch of the CGI’s 2014-2020 Development Plan, the 42-year old Dubliner put aside his four-year drought and recent exit from the worlds’ Top 200, for the first time in 18 years, to hail the new umbrella body as a massive step forward.
“When I grew up, playing golf through the 80s, there were three distinctly different bodies that competed for the same resources,” he said. “Over the last number of years I have seen a big mellowing of that and they have started working very closely together.”
Structures are being put in place to arrest the 25% drop in participation numbers with seminars for clubs and “Get Back to Golf” and “Get into Golf” initiatives up and running.
While 21.3% of Ireland’s 178,000 club golfers are female — ahead of England (15.3%), Wales (13.5%) and Scotland (11.4%) — the CGI wants Ireland on a par with European nations like Austria and Germany (38%).
Family golf, according to the ILGU’s Sinead Heraty, is the way forward with the rigid structure of men on Saturday and women on Tuesday with no juniors at weekends is a trend they believe simply has to stop.
Harrington pays for a family membership at Dun Laoghaire and his 10-year old son Paddy is a paying member at Stackstown.
“I bring my son up to an imaginary tee box on the fairway where he can reach the par four in two shots and make a par or possibly a birdie on the hole,” Harrington said. “There is nothing more frustrating for kids than teeing off the back tee and taking five shots to get there and eight at the hole. I bring my kids of crazy golf so they can make a birdie and maybe a hole in one. That’s what encourages them — not taking 11 to play a long par four.”
Harrington revealed that he lost to his son at crazy golf on Sunday but when asked if he found negotiating the windmill or the clown’s mouth as frustrating as the real thing, he insisted he’s not going to let his battle for form get him down.
Having missed seven of 11 cuts this year he said: “I am frustrated but that ain’t going to win the battle. I am going to win the battle.
And while he says making this year’s Ryder Cup team is “a tall ask”, he reminded everyone that he’s in a similar situation to 2008 when he was told by skipper Nick Faldo at Birkdale to “get the finger out” and promptly won The Open that week and then his third major at the US PGA.
Harrington also dismissed the notion that Ireland's European Tour contingent could play under one flag.
While he loved playing under the Four Provinces flag as an amateur and points to the ILGU's shamrock emblem as a symbol nobody could take issue with, he sees no reason why the European Tour should stray into political territory by removing the distinction between players from the Republic of Ireland and Northern Ireland.
“In a perfect world, would we play under the Golfing Union of Ireand flag? It was brilliant for us as amateurs because it represented everybody.
“The Golfing Union works as an All Ireland body because we play under the four provinces flag. But I don’t want to play under the four provinces flag.
“I enjoyed playing under the four provinces flag when I was with the Golfing Union of Ireland and I understood what it meant, but I want to play under the tricolour now.
“The flag for the Northern Ireland guy, who was happy playing under the GUI flag, it represents him. But the tricolour doesn’t necessarily represent somebody from Northern Ireland who considers himself part of the UK.