Former Ryder Cup star Des Smyth has accepted the challenge of mentoring Ireland’s fledgling touring professionals.
He believes raising the funds are necessary to keep Irish golf punching above its weight on the international stage.
Smyth, 64, was yesterday confirmed by the Confederation of Golf in Ireland as leader of Team Ireland Golf.
The two-time Ryder Cup player and former vice-captain, who won eight times on the European Tour between 1979 and 2001, will oversee the development of Ireland’s rookie professionals in their transition to the paid ranks.
Smyth will also be spearheading a major fundraising drive at this year’s Team Ireland Golf Pro-Am, which will take place at Luttrellstown Castle on July 10, the day after this year’s Dubai Duty Free Irish Open at Portstewart.
Team Ireland Golf was established in 1999 to assist Irish pros, both male and female, in the early stages of their careers, with its funding provided by Sport Ireland, whose chief executive John Treacy was present at Golfing Union of Ireland headquarters in Kildare yesterday as Smyth was unveiled by the CGI.
“I’m delighted to be involved with this Team Ireland venture,” said Smyth.
“It’s been going for a long time and I’m delighted to come on board at this stage. We have a wonderful group of young, talented players in Ireland. Golf has punched above its weight for a long time and it’s important that this continues.
“I know why I’ve been brought in. I’ve played professional golf for more than 40 years and I’m very happy to pass on my experiences to these young players if they need to hear it and I’m only too happy to help in any way I can.
“I know from a financial point of view we’ve had a desperate time over the last number of years and the corporate side of putting money into this has more or less dried up. If it wasn’t for John (Treacy) and Sport Ireland there might not have been any money at all to support these young players.
“So I’m coming on board and we’re going to try and generate more finance into the kitty because with the success we’ve had, and we’ve been hugely successful as a country in golf, if you compare the type of funds we’re trying to get in here to support our players we’re way behind the rest.
“In Europe they’re miles ahead of us, with funds of €2.5m in countries like Sweden and France and Denmark. So while we do have wonderful players they do need support.”
Smyth said he had been approached about the role years ago but had been too involved in his own playing career to give it the necessary attention.
“I feel now the time is probably right for me to be giving something back to the game that gave me so much,” he said.
“I think it’s incumbent on us to make sure we have enough finance in place to support players coming through from the amateur to the professional ranks.
"There is a grey area for a few years where guys and girls need support if they’re going to try and break through and make it on tour because it’s a very tough place.”
Smyth’s first order of business as regards fundraising is to start work on the Pro-Am at Luttrellstown Castle in July.
“I’m happy to say that I’ve spoken with Paul McGinley on this and he’s 100% behind it. He’s assured me that he’ll be there on the day.
“We’re aiming for the day after this year’s Irish Open and we’re looking at between 20 and 24 teams. We’re going to try and make it a high-profile event with as many players as possible present who have been beneficiaries of Team Ireland Golf.”
The decision to appoint Smyth was welcomed by Sport Ireland CEO Treacy, who said: “Des has immense experience in the professional game and will be a great source of inspiration and advice for Ireland’s emerging golfers.
“It is vitally important that we continue to support our individual golfers to ensure that the game remains healthy and that Ireland has a strong representation in professional tournaments around the world.
"The investment by Sport Ireland in the Team Ireland Golf Scheme is essential to assist our top golfers to make the transition from elite amateur to the professional ranks.”
The latest round of Team Ireland grants from the Sports Council is expected to be announced next month.
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