Inside Golf: Royal Curragh on to a winner

Survival of the fittest is not a new concept and it’s certainly true when it comes to business — especially the golf business.

Time does not stand still for anyone and while Royal Curragh is Ireland’s oldest club and course, the moves they have made to make sure it remains at the cutting edge means it can look to the future with confidence.

Golf has been played at the Curragh since 1852 but, having barely squeaked through the financial meltdown, the decision to bring in Golf Course Management Services (GCMS) — a Carr Golf company— to run the club and maintain the course has proved crucial to its survival.

As a result, Royal Curragh is going through a mini boom and the moves point to a trend that is sure to catch on.

Outsourcing maintenance is key for older clubs that have fallen behind the times and need to compete for green fee business and remain attractive to members who are more likely than ever to vote with their feet and take up a better offer next door.

“It was a hard sell initially because we were in a bad place financially and trying to convince the members that bringing Carr Golf in would mean spending and extra €40,000 of money we looked like we didn’t have,” explained committee member John Finlay.

“And we also needed to spend money on new machinery. One of the problems was the lack of investment in the course and machinery. We had 15-year-old machines held together by duct tape. Ultimately the message that was put forward was that we can’t afford not to do this. It has completely turned the course and the club around.”

The need to change hit home when the Curragh went from being an open golf course to a closed one, and it was fenced off from the sheep that had grazed it for years and keep the grass short.

“All of a sudden we had much more grass than we knew what to do with,” John recalls. “It went from one extreme to the other and two years ago it was almost unplayable. If you strayed a metre off the fairway, you could hardly find your ball.”

No greens staff were let go by GCMS but under their expert guidance, they transformed the course which in turn led to improved morale among the membership and a boosted green fees income and membership numbers.

Keeping the junior members past their 18th birthday was the next big step and that’s also been addressed with a graduated subscription levels.

The Confederation of Golf in Ireland (CGI) recognised that in common with many clubs offering junior membership at reduced fees, the numbers giving up their membership at the Curragh when they hit 18 was far too high.

Identified by the CGI as the “Junior Golf Cliff,” the increase in subscriptions from €320 a year for certain classes of Junior or students to €950 for full memberships was simply too big a leap.

The club committee approved a measure, which is expected to be approved by the membership, whereby junior and intermediate categories of membership will be created to make it easier for younger golfers to stay or join.

The club is proposing that juveniles 18 or younger pay €75 a year with those 19-26 paying €200 regardless of whether or not they are full time education.

Those aged 27-35 will then pay €550 with those 36 years of age or over paying the full rate of €950.

“The walk from a junior to a full sub was from €320 to €950,” Finlay explains. “The walk was too high. So we have decided to introduce new categories to make it easier for young golfers to remain in the club or come and join.

“The price jump is not huge. I believe it is going to work and attract more people and keep our young members.”


Harrington takes inspiration from Pinky and the Brain

Pádraig Harrington turned 44 yesterday but don’t expect him to change or stop trying to get better.

“I still believe I am a competitive player,” he said in a Sports Illustrated podcast last week.

“I still love playing golf and competing and trying to figure it out.

“I think I have got to that age in golf that most golfers get to — they have hit a wall.

“There are very few professional golfers that have a career that exceeds 20 years... I have obviously hit that wall and I’d like to get through it.”

Motivation is the key and while Harrington has done it all, he’ll never tire of the eternal golfing quest.

“If Tiger was 20 with the same swing he has now, he would be winning plenty of majors,” Harrington said.

“He has just done it. He has not got a lot more to prove in the game of golf.”

He compares himself and his caddie Ronan Flood to the cartoon lab rats, Pinky and the Brain, explaining: “Every night they break out of the lab and try and take over the world.

“And every night they traipse home and Pinky says to Brain, ‘What are we going to do tomorrow?’

“And Brain says, ‘As always, we are going to try and take over the world.’

“Every time I leave the range now, first of all I say to my caddie, I’d love to keep practising.

“I’ve never left the putting green or pitching green or the range and not wanted to stay there.

“And just to wind my caddie up, I’ll say, ‘What are we going to do tomorrow?’ and he’ll go... ‘Yep, we’re going to keep on practising.’”

Mehaffey win merits attention

If you doubted for a moment that Irish women’s golf is on the rise, you haven’t been paying attention.

Not only is Leona Maguire the women’s No 1 in the World Amateur Golf Ranking, not to mention the recipient of the Mark McCormack Award for holding down top spot this year, her Ireland team mate Olivia Mehaffey is also creating history.

Last week, the 17-year-old from Royal County Down Ladies’ Golf Club, became the first Irish golfer to win the Ladies Golf Union (LGU) Order of Merit. Olivia, who is set to head to Arizona State University at the end of next year, gains a full exemption to next year’s Ricoh Women’s British Open at Woburn.

Ranked 19th in the world, Olivia began her season by winning three events in a row — the Irish Girls’ U18 Open Strokeplay, the Helen Holm Scottish Open Stroke Play Championship and the Welsh Ladies Open Stroke Play Championship before finishing runner up in the Irish Women’s Close, reaching the semi-finals of the Ladies British Open and then taking second in the British Ladies Stroke Play at Moortown.

Given her progress this season, the 2016 season promises to be very special indeed.

It could also be special for several other Irish players after Chloe Ryan finished fourth this year with Maria Dunne 11th, Paula Grant 12th and Jessica Ross in 13th spot.

Mahon boys triumph

Brilliant sunshine and brilliant scoring were the order of the day when the southern region’s top young players competed in the third annual AST Juvenile Trophy at Cobh Golf Club.

An unique international flavour was added to this year’s event with the entry of a team from the prestigious Buchholz-Nordheide Golf Club in Hamburg. But top honours still remained at home with the Mahon Golf Club team of Johnny Murphy, John Foley, James Daly, Colum Kennedy and Cathal Crowley racking up 153 stableford points to claim overall victory from defending champions Fota Island by three points.

Mahon will now hold the AST Perpetual Trophy for the year while their players each received a replica of the Cup and golf vouchers. Johnny Murphy from Mahon took the individual honours with 42 points and he will soon be on his way to an all expense paid golfing weekend for two at the luxurious Portmarnock Hotel and Golf Links in Dublin, compliments of AST Physiotherapy.

Cobh GCs Zack Devlin won the best gross with 71, closest to the pin at Cobh’s spectacular island green, 10th hole was Peter Milner from Cobh, while Cork Golf Club’s Daniel Burke belted the longest drive on the 11th hole.

The tournament is the brainchild of Adrian and Susanne Tanzer, who moved from Germany to Cobh some 15 years ago and established the AST Physiotherapy Clinic in Ballynoe/Cobh.

“When we started the AST Juvenile Trophy, it was always our intention to invite teams from around Europe,” they said. “Germany is a start, but we hope that other countries will soon follow.”


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