Golfing Union of Ireland changing for the future

The Golfing Union of Ireland might be celebrating its 125th birthday this year but the world’s oldest golfing union is not averse to embracing major change in its old age.
Golfing Union of Ireland changing for the future

In conjunction with the Irish Ladies Golfing Union and the Confederation of Golf in Ireland, it continues to plan for the creation of one governing body for the game on the island of Ireland over the next few years.

But in order to get to that point, it has had to make some significant changes in its governance structures and following the appointment of its first chief executive last year, delegates attending the Annual General Meeting at Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links yesterday approved the creation of an 11-member board to replace the current 13-strong executive committee.

The board, which will have responsibility for the ongoing fulfilment of the GUI’s strategies and policies, will advertise next week for an independent chair and two independent members — both roles are voluntary — in order to move the GUI towards a modern governance structure.

The officers of the union — president, president-elect, honorary secretary, and honorary treasurer — will make up four of the 11 board members.

In addition, the four provincial branches of the union will have each have one nominee on the board. The provision for an independent chairman and two independent members is a significant departure for the GUI and paves the way for greater diversity and accountability.

Ultimately the creation of a board will optimise the leadership capacity of the union, ensuring the GUI’s strategy and policies are delivered in an efficient and effective manner.

“One of the pillars of GUI’s strategic plan is one governing body,” Pat Finn explained. “The first pillar was the appointment of a CEO replacing the general secretary, which we did late last year.

“Another one which is in the pipeline is the establishment of a line of reporting between the main members of staff in the branch and the CEO of the organisation.

“Those are two of the three significant governance changes which were required to enable the GUI to be best positioned to implement its strategy and get on with its business.”

The GUI and the ILGU have already sat down for four meetings to discuss the creation of one governing body and while a basic roadmap has been discussed, no timeframe has been put on its implementation though late 2018, when Ireland hosts the World Amateur Team Championships at Carton House, is considered a realistic goal.

Last week, the GUI announced a significant overhaul to the tournament conditions for the six amateur majors — the Irish Close, Irish Open Strokeplay and the four provincial championships — with a top-four finish at any one of the six guaranteeing that player’s place in the field for the next six.

The changes also place a greater emphasis on the World Amateur Golf Ranking to decide fields with the age limit for Mid-Amateur championships reduced from 35 to 30 in order to give those events “a shot in the arm”.

“This suite of changes that are being introduced follow consideration of feedback from players, clubs, and other stakeholders,” Finn explained, adding that the championships would be constantly reviewed.

Despite the improvement in the economy, the number of affiliated golfers dropped by just under 1,000 last year and while honorary treasurer, Rollo McClure, believes the worst is now over, the GUI levy will rise from November this year.

“Our total numbers are 130,000 from a peak of 177,000 eight years ago,” McClure explained. “Four years ago we made a decision to freeze the union and branch subscriptions and because of that we have created deficits in the last three or four years.

“This year the deficit is almost €500,000, and having agreed at last year’s AGM to freeze subs for 2016, the projected deficit for this year is just under €300,000.

“That is all under control but we have made a decision now to increase e subscriptions with effect from November 2016 by €3 in the south and £2 for clubs in the north.”

Getting families more involved in the game is the key to the future and very much a priority for incoming GUI president Kevin McIntyre, a Kilkenny native and long-time representative of Ardee Golf Club.

In other news, the GUI confirmed Royal County Down will host the Irish Amateur Open in 2017 and 2018 with this May’s championship bringing Royal Dublin’s 10-year tenure to an end.

As for the matter of member clubs in Ireland reclaiming VAT paid on green fees following a European Court decision ruling that VAT should not have been charged with the exception of green fees sold to corporates or tour operators, the GUI had good news.

Following a recent VAT tribunal decision in the UK, it appears 90% of claims on payments made to UK Inland Revenue since the beginning of VAT charges will be upheld and Revenue in Ireland is likely to adopt a similar policy though claims in the South will only be backdated for four years.

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