Golf is a game enjoyed by tens of thousands of people in this country and one thing that every golfer has in common is that they want to improve… 16 handicap or otherwise.
A 2017 report entitled ‘A Satellite Account for Golf in the Republic of Ireland’ was commissioned by the Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI) and The R&A.
It was conducted by the Sport Industry Research Centre at Sheffield Hallam University, and one of the most interesting numbers to come from the report was that of the total 281,000 adult golfers in Ireland, 160,000 play at least once a week.
That equates to 4.5% of the adult population. How many of those are playing competitively is impossible to gauge but there are approximately 16,000 golfers who are single handicap golfers or better.
And what better way for these high-level golfers to compete than in Junior and Senior Scratch Cups.
The Scratch Cup was once a hugely important event in a golf club’s calendar year but as the recession hit the number of events declined drastically.
As the best players look to become scratch golfers, and scratch golfers look to become leading amateurs, and these leading amateurs contemplate the four amateur Majors in Ireland (West, East, South and North), the Walker Cup and potential professionalism, it is easy to see why the revival of the Scratch Cup was so important.
That’s where the Top Golfer Tour comes in.
Set up in 2010, by business partners Dermot Synnott and Robert Hill, the Tour was created to give elite golfers the opportunity to compete nationwide against similarly talented and competitive individuals.
The aim was to create a tour-like atmosphere with a sense of occasion on arrival, on the tee and around the course.
The success of the Tour can be seen in the names of sponsors like Motocaddy, Wellington Eye Clinic, Visit Cascais, Nature Valley, EIR Sports, and DestinationGolf.
Travel, who all came on board at the outset and are still supporting Top Golfer today. Alken Brothers, the wine merchants, became a part of the tour last year while La Manga Resort and Druh Belts are new sponsors for 2018.
The story for 2018 gets bigger on two fronts: Flogas has become the lead sponsor for a two-year term and the €1 million green fee barrier will be breached in the weeks ahead.
“We’re thrilled to welcome Flogas on board as a new title partner,” declares Dermot Synnott.
“As a company, Flogas already has active partnerships in Irish golf but at Top Golfer we are looking to help reinforce their brand awareness and position in the marketplace, by driving their message and excellent range of products to the golf clubs and golfers who are part of our Top Golfer community.
“We have introduced a new logo and our tagline will be ‘TopGolfer Tour powered by Flogas’, and the ‘Flogas Order of Merit.’
Flogas, one of Ireland’s premier LPG and Natural Gas providers, is now supplying electricity with some very special rates for golf clubs in the Republic of Ireland.
The fit between the two partners is a good one as John Rooney, managing director, Flogas Ireland, recognises: “We’re delighted to be the title sponsor for the TopGolfer Tour. As a company, we have a long and rich tradition in looking after the energy needs of the golfing community throughout Ireland and the sponsorship is an excellent opportunity to support Irish golf at grassroots level.”
In 2018, the Tour will run 32 events around the country between April and October.
“We wanted to create real excitement around the event, give the players an atmosphere in which to compete and give the most passionate golfers a long-term goal.
That’s why we introduced the Order of Merit,” says Synnott, “and with venue partners Macreddin Golf Club and Druids Glen Resort hosting the play-offs and Tour Championship, respectively, this year is set to be a big one.”
Golf clubs are lining up to be included on the schedule and it’s healthy for the Tour to be spiced up with new venues and events each year.
For 2018, the tour will have Senior Scratch Cups at Arklow and Druids Heath, a Junior Scratch at Slieve Russell, and a Fota Island Summer Pairs tournament.
There are, however, another 25 clubs on the waiting list, but Synnott believes in loyalty.
“There are only so many dates available in the year,” he acknowledges, “and many of the golf clubs have been on board since the start.
“They’ve been loyal to us and we’re loyal to them and there are certain venues that the players just love returning to – Castle and Cork golf clubs, for example.
“Over the last eight years, we have partnered with 75 clubs north and south of the border, from Faithlegg to Galgorm Castle and from Westport to St Anne’s. We work closely with each club but, ultimately, it’s their Scratch Cup so once a date has been confirmed they decide the green fee and set up the timesheet.
“We’re the facilitators and we promote the event. Our only requirement is that Category 1 golfers expect excellent course presentation and we talk to the clubs to ensure that this is achieved.”
The Tour has become a regular feature for many of Ireland’s single figure golfers, with over 12,000 of them registered through the Top Golfer website (topgolfer.ie).
If those European-wide participation rates are accurate and there are 16,000 golfers in Ireland with a single digit handicap, it means Top Golfer is communicating with three-quarters of them. That’s an impressive reach for any golf brand to target.
The average event attracts 95 players, while the more popular venues such as Cork Golf Club host over 150 golfers.
With the Tour travelling to every part of the country local golfers benefit hugely, but there are those who have a far greater commitment to the cause.
“At last year’s Tour Championship,” Synnott recalls, “I calculated the total mileage our tour van had completed in 2017.
“I presented that number to the players to show our commitment to the Tour, only to be outshone by two Order of Merit competitors who had been travelling nationwide from Ballinrobe Golf Club in Mayo, and Rockmount Golf Club, outside Belfast. They love the Tour and travel week in, week out, so we must be doing something right.”
Green fees are set by the individual golf clubs but the average entry fee is around €30. By using that average of 95 players per event this generates €2,850 for each club… and that all adds up over eight years.
The 2018 season will see Top Golfer breaching the €1,000,000 mark in green fees raised. What other organisations can say they support Irish golf to such a level?
Golfers also travel in advance to practise and stay overnight, which means more money going into local economies.
On top of that, each event can attract golfers from more than 50 clubs so there is a strong undercurrent of knowledge of where the best conditions are to be found and how Ireland’s golf clubs are performing.
It is a remarkable figure and the Top Golfer Tour is showing no signs of slowing down.
Far from it as the Tour continues to evolve and expand with a variety of events being introduced. There’s a Winter Series, Summer Pairs, and International Pairs.
In 2017, there was a charity putting competition for Crumlin Hospital, where the winner went on to play in the Pro-Am of the Portuguese Masters.
“It’s been an incredible journey,” Synnott concludes. “We have a dynamic brand and business model which is always adapting… just like the golf industry itself… but we wouldn’t be able to do what we do without the support of our sponsor partners, the many Irish clubs we visit and the Tour players themselves.”
The arrival of Flogas will undoubtedly add some extra energy to an already thriving Tour, and Scratch Cups are firmly back as a mainstay on the Irish golf calendar… just as they should be.